As each speaker at the plaque-hanging ceremony in the Cahners-Cabot Room of Boston’s Symphony Hall recounted memories of George Zazofsky, the founder of ICSOM, my mind began filling up with names—names I hadn’t thought about for some time.
Tom Hall was introduced by Jan Gippo as the “grand old man” of ICSOM, and Tom and I both smiled. “Grand” is certainly an apt description of Tom, but “old” is a relative term. When Tom announced that he became involved with ICSOM in 1982, it sounded to me as if he were a Johnny-come-lately. In 1982 I was attending my twelfth ICSOM conference since my first one in Seattle in 1971. Unlike Tom and most of the other attendees at the ceremony (except, of course, for George’s family and some former BSO members), I had actually met George Zazofsky. But he was no longer active in ICSOM when I met him, so it was other names that began floating past my mind’s eye.
The folks I remembered were, like George, courageous, committed, and often angry. In 1971, Ralph Mendelsohn from the New York Philharmonic was the chair. If he ever smiled, I never witnessed it. Although he was less active by 1972, I was privileged to know and happy to see again at this year’s conference Sam Denov, the successor to George as Chair. While I no longer remember all the offices they held, I remember Dave Smiley from the San Francisco Symphony; Vance Beach, Editor of Senza Sordino from the Los Angeles Philharmonic; Bob Maisel, Secretary of ICSOM from St. Louis; and Melanie Burrell from the Denver Symphony, who after serving ICSOM in several capacities would later become the first and only woman to be elected chair. Soon there was Brad Buckley and John Palanchian, followed closely by Fred Zenone and Florence Nelson—giants all. Nancy Griffin from Seattle, and Carolyn Parks from the Kennedy Center Opera House Orchestra were joined by Irv Segall from Philadelphia and Senza Sordino Editor Henry Shaw from Cincinnati.
Although by 1971, ICSOM had been awarded conference status by the AFM, the charge of “dual unionism” lingered amongst some AFM officials and many local union officers. And that was only one of the struggles to be fought on the local union level.
I cannot go on from here without reporting one of the most significant events in ICSOM’s history—the engagement of I. Philip Sipser as counsel in 1969. It was Sipser who advised and negotiated the terms of the merger of ICSOM and the AFM. Part of that transaction was the creation of the AFM Symphony Strike Fund.
The battlefield in the early ’70s was at the local union level. Incredibly, the struggles included simply being present at the bargaining table, having negotiation counsel, and even having the right of ratification! During the term of AFM President Vic Fuentealba, who appointed Lew Waldeck to head the newly-created Symphonic Services Division, the relationship between ICSOM and the Federation improved in the ’80s to the point of actually affecting the relationships on the local level.
Today it is difficult to imagine how those fundamental rights were so long denied to symphony, opera, and ballet musicians. For those of us who remember, and for some of the people that made it happen, it is remarkable to realize how far ICSOM, ROPA, OCSM and the other player conferences have come. For the most part, today’s struggles are being waged by a united union fully supporting the efforts of working musicians. George, and maybe even Ralph, would have smiled.