The 2010s
The 2000s
The 1990s
The 1980s
The 1970s
The 1960s

2007 Conference

Opening address to the 2007 ICSOM Conference
August 15, 2007

Bruce Ridge, Chairman

During this past year, my first as chair of ICSOM, I have had the opportunity to listen to orchestras all over the country. I have traveled over 50,000 miles for various industry activities, and I’ve heard rehearsals and concerts from San Juan to Honolulu. In all of these places, I have witnessed great enthusiasm from the community for their orchestras. In our cities, our audiences feel a sense of ownership for their orchestra.

Within our orchestras I have witnessed a great brotherhood of artists, all dedicated to the greatest aspiration of the arts…the elevation of the human spirit. As I travel, I know that I am accompanied by a generation of friends, all performing on the same night, at the same moment, and with the same dedication. Through our union, and through the close relationship that exists between the Players’ Conferences and our orchestras, I know that I am part of a community that means I will never face travails alone. Everywhere I go, I am accompanied by our network of friends.

But still, there are musicians in our community of orchestras that face great difficulties, and there are places where a negative view of the future of the arts in America persists. We continue to wonder why all of our cites are not embracing the great opportunity that the arts and symphonic music represent. After all, a recent study by the Americans for the Arts found that the non-profit culture industry is responsible for over $166 billion in economic activity every year, and creates over 5.7 million jobs!

In my remarks to this conference last summer in Nashville, I held up a copy of the New York Times that proclaimed that “The impending demise of classical music has not just been exaggerated, it has been dead wrong.” This message was repeated mere weeks ago in the Wall Street Journal, with a headline stating “Contrary to rumors, symphony orchestras have a bright future.”

We must ask ourselves, why do the rumors of impeding demise linger in the collective consciousness of our culture? Are these promulgated rumors of our demise serving the role of a self-fulfilling prophecy? What affect does an article on declining attendance have on actual attendance? I have visited orchestras this year where managements openly talk about that decline, even though their attendance is up! Why are the arts the only field that simultaneously seeks to promote and under-mine its success?

Despite the negative rhetoric, I have never been more optimistic about the potential for our thriving future. I assure you that it is not a blind optimism, but it is unwavering and unshakeable.

I do not doubt our ability to succeed, and that resolve is due entirely to the people I’ve met as I have traveled. Our orchestras are populated by incredible people. Talented yes, but even more, they are brave, dedicated, inspiring, and resilient.

The quality of our orchestras is amazing. I have visited orchestras that were facing great difficulties, and even some internal strife, and yet when they walk on stage they were stunning in their artistry. I have heard concerts and rehearsals, I have visited musicians in their backstage lounges and in their homes. I have been inspired by them all, and I have gained a unique perspective on symphonic music in North America.

When I have had such a rare and wonderful chance to hear so many of our orchestras, it is impossible to doubt the value of what we do, and it is impossible for me to rest until the word of this inspiration is spread to our cities, our governments, our business communities, our children, and everyone whose life can be improved by our work.

But for us to succeed, those of us in this room must effectively communicate the power of collective action. The field looks to us for leadership, and we will answer that call to action.

In this year, there was a tangible demonstration of the power of collective action. Through the “Call to Action” campaign launched by ICSOM and supported by our colleagues in our fellow Symphonic conferences, we were able to protest a proposed raise in our work dues by the Federation, and by expressing our views in a positive and hopeful way, we were successful. Our collective voices were heard, and when so many of us speak together, we cannot be ignored.

The Governing Board asked the delegates to act, and act you did. Orchestra by orchestra, petitions flowed in, signed by our great musicians across the country. In Local after Local, symphonic players addressed their concerns to their AFM Convention delegates and engaged them in the positive dialogue of comradery…and they were heard. This success belongs to every musician who signed a petition or who engaged in the debate.

But while we were successful in this one issue, the real victory was not in the issue itself, but rather in the process. We demonstrated that we all will respond to a need, we all will work together, and that there is reason to believe in the grass-roots power of the people.

We should be ever vigilant in seeking other opportunities to implement our network of activism. And friends, those opportunities will no doubt come, and they will be arriving soon.

Wherever an orchestra is in trouble, let us all respond. Wherever a musician is in need, let us all respond. Wherever a negative image of the arts is produced, let us answer it quickly and unanimously with a positive message of hope. Let our community of musicians serve as an example to those places across the country that are aching to hear a positive message. It is a right of the people that they not be deprived of hope. As they hear our music, let them also hear our voices.

We implore you and challenge you to be ready for the next “Call to Action”. We urge you to take this message home and spread it to your colleagues.

There is strength in numbers, and we are indeed strong. As we face the difficulties and opportunities that are before us, we must remember that one pencil breaks easily, but many pencils gathered together will not even bend.

We will no longer concede the pronouncement of a negative future for the arts. Our message is needed now more than ever, and at this point in history when the world looks for inspiration, our music is more relevant than ever.

The theme of this year’s conference is “Breaking the Fourth Wall”, a term that refers to the imaginary wall between the stage and the audience…the other three walls being formed by the shell of the stage. For musicians to break the fourth wall, we must learn to reach out to our audiences and our network of supporters in new ways. We have asked you to bring examples of your orchestras’ promotional material so we can learn what is working, or not working, across the country. We will hear from marketers and Public Relations professionals from our field about the problems and opportunities they face in promoting our orchestras. We will hear from our delegates about the innovative activities our Players’ Associations have engaged in to elevate the profile of their musicians in their communities. And most importantly, we will share stories with each other of both success and disappointment.

Our meetings this week must be about the exchange of information. There is no doubt that you will find some of the presentations more interesting than others, but the real work will come away from the sessions as we all build new friendships that will serve us throughout the year. There are some great resources for you in this room, most notably in that we are honored to have two former chairs of ICSOM serving as delegates. Brad Buckley is an incredible font of knowledge, and the musicians in my home orchestra owe him thanks for advising our committee chair this year on a particular issue in our own negotiations. Those same thanks are due to Robert Levine. Robert also was tremendous in advising us all at the AFM Convention, along with our former ICSOM President Dave Angus, who also continues to serve as delegate from his orchestra. Former member-at-large and our great friend Mary Plaine also continues to serve.

You have a rare opportunity to learn from these great people who are more responsible than most of our colleagues know for protecting their livelihood. We all owe them a great debt, and they should serve as examples of service whose careers we should all seek to emulate.

I have often said throughout this year that I am never happier than I am when working with your Governing Board. I hope you will indulge me a few moments of praise for them. They inspire me on a daily basis, and whenever my resolve might wane through exhaustion, they are always there to tell me just what I need to hear to keep fighting, traveling, writing, and believing.

Let me begin with President Brian Rood. An officer in OCSM was telling me just last week in Quebec how he watched Brian advise me at the AFM Convention. Just before my testimony to the Joint Law and Finance Committee, Brian was patiently reviewing all of the issues and all of our points with me. The OCSM Officer said that it was great to see: my head was down, absorbing Brian’s message as I was writing my delivery in my head. This is the way we have worked. Brian’s respect in the field elevates us all, and we are so lucky to have him as an officer, and I am proud to have him as my friend.

Laura Ross. It is impossible to adequately speak of Laura’s work ethic. She is incredible. You would have to see to understand. She produces volumes of notes, and does so in the most inclusive way imaginable. Her knowledge is vast. I cannot even estimate the number of times this year that I have told people “I don’t know, but Laura will.” I feel that I can ask her anything, and she can produce not only the answer, but the history behind the answer.

ICSOM’s “hard-assed” Treasurer Michael Moore is perfect in his role. He guards your dues money in the most responsible of manners, and makes ICSOM a totally accountable and transparent organization. It is through his skill that we are able to provide so many services on such a shoe-string budget.

Richard Levine has worked to make Senza Sordino a much more popular publication. Where I once asked “Is anybody reading this?” I now receive cards and e-mails after every publication. That success is entirely due to Richard’s editorial skills.

Member at Large Paul Gunther has served as a confidant to me this year, and an advisor in the earliest stages of every draft of everything I’ve written (except for this speech, which I’m sure suffers as a result.) Meredith Snow is the wit and wisdom, and indeed the personality of the Governing Board. James Nickel has been a model of communication, and we all miss him at this year’s conference. He is at home with his wife, and they are expecting a new child literally any second now. He has promised to let us know, and we’ll keep you posted. But in a demonstration of priorities, somehow his wife in labor came first!

Our distinguished ICSOM Counsel, Lenny Leibowitz, is a legend. Sometimes calling someone a legend can be an over statement. But in Lenny’s case, he redefines the word. I wrote about Lenny one time, saying that if you have ever paid an electric bill by holding a musical instrument, then you owe Lenny a debt of gratitude.

Our great friend and fellow MaL Steve Lester also cannot be with us due to personal reasons. Steve has now stepped away from the board, but it has been an honor to work with him, and we know that he will continue to enlighten us all with his views.

As I stand before you here in this great city of Minneapolis, I will confess that I am tired. The work has been non-stop, and (with your support) I will never stop working to spread our message. In this city, I am mindful of a recent tragedy, that of I-35-W, and I know that there are citizens here in pain. We all saw the pictures, and we all felt horror at the sight of the massive bridge collapse. But in this sad news I have found inspiration, as this is a city that is dedicated to a collective sense of service, and as stories of heroism emerged from the dust, I was not surprised that the people of Minnesota had sought opportunities to help save lives and heal wounds. Let us be inspired by that even as we mourn for those lost.

And as I am road-weary here today, I also turn to you, the delegates of the 2007 ICSOM Conference. I ask you help me. Inspire me with your ideas. Address the issues. Stand before your colleagues and speak your mind without hesitation. We are here to listen to you. Too often I feel that our conferences are only directed at talking to the floor from the podium. Let us resolve to make this week an opportunity for dialogue. Engage the speakers, and engage your fellow delegates. I have no doubt that I will leave this year’s conference invigorated for the tasks ahead.

Those tasks are many…but let us have no doubts of our success as we continue the work that is before us now. Thank you for your support, and thank you for the honor of allowing me to serve you as chair of this historic institution.

Back to top