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2009 Conference

President's address to the 2009 ICSOM Conference
August 19, 2009

Brian Rood, President

Good morning delegates, fellow GB members, AFM officers, staff and honored guests. I would also like to thank Local 125, its officers including President John Lindberg, Conference coordinator Tom Reel and the Virginia Symphony for hosting this conference and helping with the many arrangements. I cannot imagine a more beautiful setting than here in Norfolk along the water. Having grown up in western Michigan, just a stone’s throw from Lake Michigan, I feel at home here.

Yet, let us remember why we are in Norfolk. During the 1990s there was considerable debate on the conference floor regarding locations of future ICSOM conferences.

The debate centered on one particular delegate’s persistent reminder that orchestras needed our help then as they did in ICSOM’s earlier years, when conferences were held in host cities. The delegate stressed that ICSOM should again focus national attention on orchestra “hot spots” throughout the country by going to cities where the host orchestra might benefit from ICSOM’s presence. You may recall that the delegate was from North Carolina and is now our esteemed Chair, Bruce Ridge.

It is an honor to stand proudly with our colleagues from the Virginia Symphony during this difficult time. We hope that ICSOM’s presence this week will have a long-lasting and positive effect on their orchestra and community.

While our conference is entitled the Arts and Economic Recovery, I would like to focus my remarks on the role ICSOM plays in our lives as orchestral performers and union activists.

In 1962 ICSOM was created out of experiences that angered and frustrated our predecessors as they addressed:

  1. The lack of fair and competent representation at the bargaining table
  2. Problems with their union including the right to ratify contracts
  3. Efforts to attain reasonable job security and decent wages

Almost fifty years later ICSOM has made enormous progress. In 1962 most orchestra seasons were about six months long. Now, almost half of all ICSOM orchestras have year-round seasons and our average is 44 weeks. Salaries have grown considerably since the 1960’s when major orchestras paid less than $5,000-barely a living wage.

Tremendous progress has been made with pensions, insurance benefits, job security, grievance and arbitration procedures, and protection against discrimination on the basis of sex, race, age and union activity. The Strike Fund, ERF, code of ethical audition practices, Sphinx scholarships, even the Symphonic Services Division itself and perhaps most important, participation at AFM Conventions are the results of ICSOM initiatives and ICSOM follow through.

What about ICSOM’s role today and into the future?

Perhaps our most important role is that of advocacy; advocacy within our orchestras, the industry, our locals and Federation.

Bruce, Laura and I represented ICSOM at the ROPA Conference in Dayton just a few days ago. Randy Cohen from the Americans for the Arts gave a terrific presentation on how their organization continues to successfully advance arts funding and awareness. I was gratified to see how the audience enthusiastically embraced Randy’s presentation. Thank you, President Lee, for stepping up to the microphone to personally thank Randy.

ICSOM continues to monitor its role with the League of American Orchestras and other organizations that serve our institutions. During last summer’s Conference, we discussed the League’s OSRs or orchestra statistical reports. The League teamed up with the Pennsylvania Cultural Data Project to provide a more accurate and reliable OSR than had been the case previously. ICSOM agreed to be involved with the understanding that musicians must have access to the completed OSR’s. Orchestra committees, through their chairs, should have access to the online reports of each peer group. In other words, if your orchestra is in Group 1 you should have access to all of Group 1’s information including your own orchestra. If you are in Group 2 then you should have access to Group 2. If your chair currently does not have access, have them contact your executive director. If that doesn’t work for whatever reason, then contact Jan Wilson at the League. If that doesn’t work please contact Bruce or me. It is also our understanding that local presidents are to be provided similar access.

What about other roles for ICSOM going forward?

Partially due to the recession and partially due to efforts by overzealous managers and boards to “roll back” wages, our orchestras have been inundated with requests for concessionary re-openers. ICSOM will continue to provide support through negotiating orchestra conference calls, GB interaction with delegates and committee chairs, articles in Senza, and through orchestra-l and delegate-l. As needed we will issue Calls for Action, which thanks to the generosity of you and your orchestras as well as our friends throughout the AFM, gave much needed support to our Columbus and Jacksonville colleagues last year.

What about ICSOM’s role within our own union?

A major issue since ICSOM’s early days has been the relationship between major orchestra musicians and the AFM. In 1966, when ICSOM officers were invited at AFM expense to discuss union grievances, the IEB voted to prohibit orchestras from discussing bylaw revisions because they “were not in the best interests of the AFM.”*

At the 1979 Convention, AFM delegates imposed Federation work dues on symphonic players, the result of which was that 3,919 symphonic orchestra musicians (1.3% of the Federation’s membership) carried 37% of the AFM budget. Delegates to the 1980 ICSOM Conference deplored contributing so heavily to the Federation while having so little voting power that they passed a resolution calling for repeal of what they considered an unfair tax.*

During the 1980s and 1990s AFM-ICSOM relations were strained by a continuing dilemma; orchestra musicians, with fixed contracts and steady wages, paid a high percentage of union dues, sometime with little return in services; at the same time they constituted just a small percentage of the total Federation membership and thus had virtually no voting power when matched against the many part-time musicians and life members in the AFM.*

Let us take the opportunity, though, to give credit where credit is due. Improvements have been made. Player conferences are invited to AFM Conventions although in non-voting capacities. AFM Bylaws were changed to mandate that locals provide specific services to orchestras. Rank-and-file orchestral musicians chosen by ICSOM and ROPA are active participants in symphonic national media negotiations. There have other improvements, to be sure.

However, the SSD, long sought by ICSOM, continues to provide far fewer services and with less staff than the dues paid by ICSOM and ROPA musicians. I will say this again, Federation resources spent on SSD services and staffing continue to pale in comparison to the dues paid by symphonic orchestral musicians. Take current salaries, for example. In 2008, SSD staff salaries in both Canada and the US made up less than 10% of the total salaries paid to all AFM staff.† In contrast, symphonic musicians contribute 55% of the total AFM work dues.

Looking ahead to next summer’s AFM Convention, symphonic musicians ask how the AFM will protect their jobs during the deepest recession of our lifetimes.

Will ICSOM and the other player conferences be treated throughout the Federation as friends and not foes?

Will future issues of our union paper, the International Musician, welcome or even acknowledge ICSOM instead of ignoring us while taking our orchestras’ advertising dollars?

This month’s IM, with August as the annual symphonic issue, scarcely mentions ICSOM, and then only as a distant reference. One was at the end of a four column piece on auditions. ICSOM pioneers, in fact, led the movement that resulted in the current code of ethical audition practices referenced in the article.

Another IM piece was devoted to the Strike Fund, which failed to acknowledge that ICSOM, ROPA and OCSM directly elect their rank-and-file Trustees, per AFM Bylaws.

Instead of using quotes from musician committee members in the column about the Charlotte Symphony’s financial struggles, management’s public relations director is quoted. Would it not be better for a union paper to solicit quotes from union members than management?

We all wish Stanley Drucker the very best as he steps away from the New York Philharmonic after such a legendary career. And yet, ROPA just celebrated their 25th anniversary this month. Did ROPA not deserve to be on the cover of the annual symphonic issue? Our ROPA colleagues comprise the largest player conference in the AFM, and as mentioned, the symphonic conferences together fund 55% of the total Federation work dues.

Why was ICSOM so notably excluded from the August IM symphonic issue?

Be assured that the GB raises these and a host of other issues regularly to Federation leadership and staff.

However, we are all in this together; rank-and-file, player conferences, local officers, federation officers and staff. We must reach out to one another and we must be heard by those that are elected to serve this great union.

Minnesota Orchestra musician Julie Ayer wrote a terrific book entitled “More than meets the EAR; how Symphony Musicians made labor history.” In discussing the importance of ICSOM, Julie quotes an article written by one of the early editors of Senza Sordino, Henry Shaw, who recently passed away.

Henry wrote:

"To tell what has transpired since 1962 should become a part of new member orientation. It must be emphasized that ICSOM is an investment and it must be protected. Perhaps an occasional reminder of difficulties that had to be dealt with is in order, along with the admonition that history can surely repeat itself where complacency becomes the order of the day."

We have a unique opportunity this week to learn from one another and our many presenters. Together, let us discuss and define ICSOM’s role so that our voices as symphonic musicians and union activists will be clearly heard long into the future.

Thank you for being here and let’s have a great conference.

* From “ICSOM, Forty Years of the International Conference of Symphony and Opera Musicians” by Tom Hall, Oscar’s House Press, 2002, based, in part, on ICSOM archives including minutes from past ICSOM Conferences and past issues of Senza Sordino

† Information obtained from 2008 LM-2 US DOL filed 31/March/2009 and 2008 AFM US-Canada Annual Report including Auditor’s Report, p.19

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