I’ve been thinking of this adage I once read in a book of quotations attributed to Buddha:
Thousands of candles can be lit from a single candle, and the life of the candle will not be shortened. Happiness never decreases by being shared.
My travels this summer to the AFM Convention and the conferences of ROPA, OCSM, and ICSOM have served to remind me of my earliest teachers and my union mentors. Though some are now absent, they all still hang around my consciousness. These were great people who lit thousands of candles, and in doing so became brilliant figures in my life.
My life would most certainly have been different without them. They opened my mind, not only to all kinds of music, but also to all kinds of people and ideas. They told me of the union, and they made it seem like an inviting and accepting place; a place where a move against one of us was a move against all of us. I wonder if my first encounters with the union had been negative, would I feel as strongly as I do about our network of friends and our brotherhood of musicians?
Among our students, what do we want their introduction to ICSOM and to the union to be? Twenty-five years from now, the person who leads the union and the symphonic field might be one of your current students. Are they getting all of the messages they will need? Are they hearing a positive view of what solidarity can mean, or are they getting a different message?
We must give them a positive introduction. Teach them to respect their colleagues. Teach them not to criticize each other. It is a lesson that will serve us all to remember. As musicians, it is in our nature to be highly critical, even to ourselves. We are trained to analyze, criticize, and agonize over every note. We know instinctively that our reputations are only as good as the last note we have played.
Still, we can be more supportive of our colleagues. We can commend them for great performances, and we can support them in hardships. In a time of trouble (be it institutional or personal), our united network of friends can rise to their need.
So, you might ask, what is this really about? Am I actually spending a column of ink advocating that we be nice to each other?
While there are worse things to advocate, that’s not at all why I’m writing this. I’ve told you all that just so I could tell you this: At one moment during my travels this summer, I heard a presentation about the union that was loud, ugly, threatening, and uninviting. At that moment, I thought that if this had been my introduction to the union, I never would have joined.
Instead, though, great mentors told me of ICSOM and the AFM. They regaled me with the legendary stories that we all share throughout the field. They spoke of solidarity, and were encouraging and supporting at every difficult moment I faced.
And that’s why I’m writing all of this. What kind of mentoring will the next generation of orchestral musicians receive?
The 2007 ICSOM Conference in Minneapolis was an inspiring gathering for me and for your Governing Board. There was an exchange of ideas and enthusiasm among our delegates, all in an atmosphere of inclusion and solidarity.
After my return home, I was pleased to read a report on the Conference by Barbara Owens, President of Local 9-535 in Boston, who wrote that the “friendly tone of the conference was in sharp contrast to the tension of the recent AFM Convention” and that she was “grateful to be part of a process that was respectful and productive.”
That “respectful and productive” tone and the enthusiasm of your delegates have invigorated us all for the tasks ahead. And there can be no doubt these tasks are many. This season, many of our colleagues will face negotiations, and we all will face the continuing negative rhetoric that inhibits the growth of our great institutions. But we left Minneapolis prepared to spread a positive message, prepared to stand united with every orchestra through whatever difficulty they may face, and prepared to work for unity throughout our union.
There is no denying that there has been tension within the AFM emanating from the disagreements between the AFM administration and the Recording Musicians Association (RMA). There are fears throughout the AFM that if this dispute continues to expand, great harm can be done to the Federation. One of the most uplifting moments of the ICSOM Conference was when the delegates unanimously passed the Governing Board’s call for unity in a resolution that states:
[T]he delegates and Governing Board of the 2007 ICSOM Conference implore the Recording Musicians Association and the current administration of the AF of M to meet together in a spirit of unity, put aside their differences, and achieve the higher goal of reunification and solidarity for the greater good of all of the members of the AFM and their families.
We are at an important time in the history of ICSOM, and indeed the history of the AFM. While other segments of the union might be at odds, there is a great coming together within ICSOM, and we implore everyone to hear our calls for unity.
The work ahead is daunting, but we will succeed by reaching out to our colleagues, both within our own orchestras and throughout our community of friends across North America. We will communicate in richer ways, spreading stories of our successes and cautionary tales of our disappointments. There shall be many more of the former than the latter if we all truly work together. Invest in your orchestra, invest in your community, invest in ICSOM, and invest in the future by introducing your students to our positive message.
As our music reaches thousands in our community, our musicians reach an even greater number. We teach young people about music, and we lighten the burden of life for so many through the elevation of the human spirit.
The message our students and our audiences receive is up to us. It is up to each one of us to become a little more brilliant and light a few candles. We will only grow stronger through sharing that light.