As described by the author, Julie Ayer, More Than Meets the Ear: How Symphony Musicians Made Labor History is the story of a grassroots movement that transformed labor relations and the professional lives of U.S. and Canadian symphony musicians. McCarthyism and segregation within the musicians union, women’s issues, and the founding of the NEA and Ford Foundation Symphony Program are included in this important labor history. Also documented in vivid detail are the Minneapolis Symphony/ Minnesota Orchestra labor negotiations from 1960–2004. Below are excerpts from the book.
From the Preface:
This book is a chronicle of symphony musicians’ historic struggle toward improving and enriching their professional lives. The countless anecdotes and stories that were told again and again among colleagues, family, and friends in the late 1950s, ’60s and early ’70s have become part of the collective folklore, informing and often entertaining each new generation. My Minneapolis colleagues related countless stories of orchestra life and the challenges of contract negotiations: the behind-the-scenes dramas that even then many musicians took for granted. I learned that notwithstanding the professional artistic fulfillment of orchestral involvement, they had found lives of financial hardship, no job security, difficult working conditions, grueling tours, dictatorial conductors, and a nonrepresentational union.
I came to realize that the background to these stories was an important part of the musicians’ labor history that was evaporating with the passage of time. There was no cohesive documentation of the real drama of the grassroots labor movement that had transformed the lives of professional orchestra musicians.
This book is not intended as an exposé. Conductors, managers, and union leaders are mentioned anecdotally and in the context of contractual issues. The musicians’ activism had a profound effect on their professional lives as well.
Nor is this book intended as a definitive history of ICSOM. Archivist Tom Hall, a member of the Chicago Symphony, has assembled Forty Years of ICSOM for all of the member orchestras. I do not presume to offer that kind of detail here.
On a summer day in 1997, I began to document the movement that had led to the formation, thirty-five years previously, of ICSOM. My husband, Carl Nashan, and I—both violinists with the Minnesota Orchestra—had organized a gathering of former and current members of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra (the CSO). We met at Ravinia, the CSO’s summer home. The third host of the reunion, Carl’s brother, Rudy, moderated the discussion and conversations among the assembled musicians, some of whom had not seen each other for many years.
As I listened and took notes, the musicians began to reminisce and recall the historic meeting of the representatives from twelve major symphony and opera orchestras who had, at their own expense, convened in Chicago in May 1962 to discuss issues of mutual concern. That meeting, which had produced ICSOM, signified the transition to a major era in labor relations and in the symphony orchestra profession.
Their remarkable stories, their vivid anecdotes, and their passionate language changed my intentions that day. Originally thinking that I could help new generations of symphony musicians understand and appreciate their collective history, I now realized that my CSO colleagues were telling the story of a unique grassroots labor movement that had meaning for a much broader audience. Their story can continue to inspire us all.
The crucial role of a few visionary militants of the Chicago and Cleveland orchestras in this national story derived from their willingness to do battle at great personal risk with the formidable adversaries of their orchestra managements and with Musicians Union president James C. Petrillo, one of the most powerful union leaders in America. In the end, they succeeded in deposing Petrillo, and Chicago became one of the last orchestras in the country to form a musicians representative committee—a basic union right that had long eluded symphony musicians.
From Chapter Three—Struggle and Activism, 1950–1962: Petrillo Challenged and Defeated:
Following the Ravinia cutbacks and foreign tour cancellation of 1959, the Chicago players committee sought the counsel of an attorney. During one of their meetings, a CSO manager evicted the committee from Orchestra Hall on the grounds that the presence of a lawyer was forbidden, as was any players meeting with more than three participants.
Management also forbade the posting in Orchestra Hall of any committee announcements. They put the company bulletin board under lock and key to prohibit meeting notices from being posted. So the musicians found a creative way to avoid trespassing on the property and make a point at the same time. They wrote notices of meetings on bits of paper attached to helium balloons and floated them backstage. Management could not prohibit air space in Orchestra Hall.
Opposition to Petrillo extended beyond symphony musicians and their supporters. In 1961, a diverse group of Local 10 musicians formed an organization called Chicago Musicians for Union Democracy, or CMUD, which comprised diverse groups of musicians throughout Local 10. All were fed up with the autocracy of their local, but only the symphony players had the advantage of being together day after day. Through the symphony players committee they could bring collective pressure to bear against the union. Like the Cleveland players, they were inspired by the passing of the Landrum-Griffin Act, which in addition to guaranteeing the right of union members to express any view, argument, or opinion regarding the conduct of union affairs, mandated a union election of officers before 1963. “There were about six of us ‘personae non gratae’ who went around the block to Toffenetti’s Restaurant, where we held secret meetings in a back room,” hornist Wayne Barrington recalled. A group of symphony and freelance musicians began discussing plans to contest the upcoming election, the first such effort since 1917. Inexperienced in the ways of formal union procedure, they hired a parliamentarian to coach them. Sixty CSO musicians held a preliminary session to inform themselves of union bylaws and review Robert’s Rules of Order. “It was revolutionary. We were determined to inform ourselves,” remembered Joe Golan.
From Chapter Four—The Birth of ICSOM: A Labor Revolution:
In early September 1962, the musicians who had attended the historic Chicago conference in May came together in Cleveland with a widening network of orchestra players for the formal ratification of the creation of ICSOM, the International Conference of Symphony and Opera Musicians. The organization’s founding members were the principal orchestras of Baltimore, Boston, Chicago, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Detroit, Indianapolis, Metropolitan Opera, Minneapolis, New York, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Rochester, Saint Louis, and Toronto.
The Cleveland meeting set the mission statement of the new organization, which would provide the first effective forum for symphony musicians to talk and work together for the benefit of all. Boston Symphony Orchestra Assistant Concertmaster George Zazofsky, the first president-elect and a dedicated leader in the ICSOM effort, told the Boston Globe several years later, “It was a further objective to direct continuous co-operative efforts within the framework of the American Federation of Musicians of the United States and Canada, AFL-CIO.”
It was a time of great pride for the musicians involved. Zazofsky’s daughter, Erika, forty years later came to appreciate the full extent of what he and his colleagues accomplished. At the time, in the early 1960s, she remembers, she was unaware of its impact on the symphony orchestra profession and of her own role in it. Perched on her father’s bed with a Smith-Corona manual typewriter, Erika typed as her father dictated the letters he wrote to various musicians throughout the country. “He was not highly educated, so he asked me to help with the syntax and sentence structure after he formulated the ideas he was trying to convey. It was quite ordinary for me to help him in this way, and I thought nothing of it until years later, when I realized what I had passively participated in. My father and the others, who stuck their necks out, were the true radicals of their day. They did not realize it then, but when I look back at what they accomplished, and the status of orchestral musicians today, they were truly free thinkers.”
From Chapter Eleven—Reflections:
The growth of ICSOM has helped the individual player to the degree that the younger players will never understand. It was an incredible effort made in those days. Informing the new members of the hard-won battles of the last three decades is of paramount importance. If they are given the knowledge of how things came to be, and that the wages, pension, and benefits they now enjoy were not given to them by the employers, they will not be equipped to continue making progress. None of these achievements occurred in a vacuum. The musicians and their counsel now negotiated with managements that were willing or had no choice but to acknowledge their presence at the table. And with the shift in power came the responsibility of representation and ratification that accompanied it.
—I. Philip Sipser, ICSOM labor lawyer, 1968-1985
From Chapter Eleven—Reflections:
Originating as a dissident group of disgruntled symphony musicians in 1962, ICSOM has become perhaps the single most powerful force in the AFM. I sometimes wonder how James Petrillo would have dealt with them. In any event, the lot of symphony, opera, and ballet musicians, and, I believe, all union musicians, has been immeasurably improved by the existence and influence of ICSOM. Despite the problems of the field in recent years, symphony, opera, and ballet jobs are still among the steadiest, highest compensated, and most respected in the music business. This alone is vivid testimony to ICSOM’s achievements.
—Leonard Leibowitz, ICSOM labor lawyer