It was my honor and pleasure to represent ICSOM in a ceremony at Boston’s Symphony Hall commemorating George Zazofsky’s contributions to orchestral life. Among his other accomplishments, George was a founder and the first chairman of ICSOM. We were gathered to dedicate a plaque as a lasting memorial to him.
While we should recognize that ICSOM must always strive to serve the current needs of orchestral musicians, it does give perspective to remember the road that those before us have paved. With that in mind, I’d like to devote the rest of this column to allow the condensed words of George’s daughter, Erika Zazofsky Goldberg, as spoken at the ceremony, to jog our collective consciousness.
“Professionally, he joined the BSO under Serge Koussevitzky when he was 24 years old. A year after he joined the orchestra, he joined the BSO’s union committee and eventually became the head of the BSO committee. He, along with others on the committee, achieved significant gains, including vast improvements in health benefits. Ultimately, he and his colleagues on the committee established a rapport and dialogue with the trustees and the management of the orchestra that was admired and envied by other orchestras. It was his goal that management and the public view the musicians as professional workers. He used to voice frustration at the popular phrase that musicians ‘played’ while other occupations ‘worked.’
“One story I remember in particular was when my dad first approached management for an increase in salary. Their reaction was, ‘That’s a lot of money you’re asking for,’ to which his response was, ‘You didn’t give up your childhood to practice.’
“In fact, the 1960 census ranked musicians and music teachers 40th in the annual income among 49 professions listed, earning an average of $4,757 annually. In 1962, most musicians in major orchestras were employed little more than six months annually at a yearly salary that was barely a living wage, under $5,000!
“In 1962, ICSOM was born and Boston was one of the first orchestras in America to ratify its bylaws. My father was one of its founders and indeed its first chairperson. He played a major role in shaping the orchestral labor movement at a time in America’s history when this was often difficult, and sometimes downright scary!
“But in 1969, a momentous event occurred: the AFM, fearing dual unionism and dilution of its authority, granted ICSOM official status. And a long and tireless dream was realized when the AFM created a full-time symphony department, now the Symphonic Services Division—this was in 1982. And by 1989, the AFM completed this marriage by incorporating into its bylaws an amendment to give ICSOM representation at AFM conventions.
“This marriage of organizations had been especially gratifying to my dad, whose dream it was to not only create this new entity, but to see this marriage of services occur. And this is why I am especially pleased and proud to welcome the participation at this ceremony of the AFM.
“It is noteworthy that before ICSOM, only one orchestra, Boston, participated directly in the negotiation of its own contract. No orchestras had the opportunity to approve contracts negotiated for them by union representatives who, being ill-informed about symphony orchestra matters, concluded agreements that incorporated token salary increases and minimal improvements in working conditions. No orchestra could hire its own attorney to participate in these negotiations. Today, most orchestras have bargaining representation and may form committees, elect their own officers, and conduct their own affairs. AFM bylaws allow orchestras to retain legal counsel of choice, and contract ratification became a part of Federation bylaws in 1983.
“My father’s dream has indeed been realized! He once wrote: ‘If the word “Philharmonic” means “brotherhood,” the word “symphony” means “in union.” ’ If you don’t have that, you don’t have anything. Today, I am pleased to report we not only have a union, a marriage; we have a marriage of unions! And for that my family wishes to thank you all for sharing this dream with us.”