In a short piece in the January 2000 issue of Senza Sordino called “The ICSOM Imprint,” our esteemed former Senza Sordino editor, Marsha Schweitzer, related a moment that she and I shared while I was in Honolulu, substituting for a week or two with the orchestra there. We caught each other’s eye at an occurrence of a minor violation of a standard union rule, a rule of intermission timing. Of that moment, Marsha wrote, “It reflected a commonality of understanding that instantly bridged the gap between [our two orchestras]. It reflected a mutual work experience in which ICSOM has played a major role for both of us, . . . deeply, . . . over a period of years. Our [respective] union educations and indoctrinations converged and became manifest on the stage at that moment. . . . Two orchestras, even though 5,000 miles apart, play by the same rules . . . regarding the enforcement of contractual working conditions. The mark of ICSOM and unionism is deeply stamped across the entire continent, and beyond.”
I believe that the relevance of ICSOM and the history of the Conference are more important now then ever. Musicians too often take for granted benefits that were won by very hard work and great sacrifice by those who went before us. We must never forget those sacrifices, and we must work to communicate the accomplishments of the organization and to educate the young musicians who join us of the important, even crucial role that ICSOM plays in their lives.
Now is the time to reinvigorate ICSOM and to move forward as a powerful advocacy group, not only for the benefit of musicians and their contracts but also for symphonic music in this country and beyond. The time is right for a rededication to our cause, and a crucial moment has arrived for us to reach out to our constituency, to ask them to serve, and to help our orchestras understand the need that is before us now.
ICSOM has many ways of reaching the industry. Senza Sordino, the ICSOM website, Orchestra-L, Delegate-L and many other outlets allow us to communicate instantly among orchestras to share information for the benefit of all of us. This shared information helps in negotiations as well as in the day-to-day problems that arrive at our doorsteps—problems both big and small. Solutions are found in our unity.
Our most powerful tool for this communication is the meeting we hold each August, the ICSOM Conference itself. For many years, I have been an advocate for “hosted” Conferences, where we hold our meeting in a city that serves as the home for an ICSOM orchestra. It has been wonderful over these past few years to travel to Louisville, Salt Lake City, and San Diego, among other places. Hosted Conferences allow us to bring ICSOM directly to our constituencies. ICSOM’s presence in your city can effect positive press for both the orchestra and the union, as well as allowing the host orchestra’s musicians to attend and participate in meetings so they can see for themselves the importance of our democracy in action. ICSOM has tried to encourage additional musician participation in the annual Conference, and hosting the Conference offers a unique opportunity for host-orchestra musicians. In some cases, it has motivated musicians to become active within their orchestras, by serving on orchestra committees and negotiating teams, and by serving other vital roles within their orchestras. The chance to meet musicians from other orchestras has also encouraged musicians to become more active in their locals and in ICSOM.
It is true, however, that moving the Conference every year creates certain logistical problems. I feel strongly, as do others, that the benefits far outweigh any difficulties. These logistical problems could be more easily solved if we were able to choose the Conference sites in advance. Since most orchestras do not come prepared to make a presentation at the Conference, even with advance notice, the Governing Board must wait until October, which can cause major problems when many hotels receive bookings over a year in advance for conferences. Last summer, ICSOM bylaws were changed to encourage site selection years in advance.
The Governing Board would like you all to consider hosting an ICSOM Conference in the next few years. Talk with your orchestra’s leadership and with your local officers. Ask them if they would see the benefit of having the ICSOM delegates come to your city, meet in your town, visit your hall, and communicate directly with your musicians (along with the attendant press that can be generated). A hosting orchestra’s main responsibilities are identifying hotels, supplying a Conference coordinator, lending office assistance during the Conference, and hosting a mixer the first evening of the Conference. An outline of all the requirements is sent to delegates every year and is also posted on the ICSOM website.
ICSOM will only be strengthened by the increased participation of our constituency. The organization can improve its service to its member orchestras only by better understanding the problems that face our orchestras individually. We need to study the successes that many have achieved as well. What better way to strengthen ICSOM’s ties to our member orchestras than by visiting their cities and meeting their musicians?
Please consider coming to this year’s Conference in San Diego with a bid from your city to host a future ICSOM Conference. If you have any questions, please contact ICSOM Secretary Laura Ross and/or ICSOM Treasurer Michael Moore, who are also very involved in Conference planning and logistics each year. It would be very beneficial to ICSOM if we could select our Conference sites several years in advance. Let us continue to allow the ICSOM Conference to be a traveling testament to what we have accomplished, and to what we can become.
Bruce Ridge is an ICSOM Governing Board Member-at-Large and chair of the North Carolina Symphony Players’ Association.