Hi folks. Richard Waugh here; violist with The Cleveland Orchestra. During my 13 seasons in Cleveland, the ICSOM delegate position has never seemed very important. Historically, the sitting delegate has been re-elected if he chose to serve, since no one ran against him. There has always been a joke about where the ICSOM Conference would be held; the humor being that if it were held in some exotic location, more people might run for the delegate position. I was begged to attend this year at the last moment, as no one actually ran during this year’s election.
During my flight to Minneapolis, I was wondering if ICSOM had some sort of Mellon association. That might sound incredible, but it just goes to show how little ICSOM has been discussed around Severance Hall during my time in Cleveland. The Conference was an education for me to say the least. I am somewhat proud to have learned that ICSOM, to a large degree was begun with the vision of a couple of distinguished retired members of my own orchestra. Further, I learned to my relief from President Rood that ICSOM in fact has no ties to the Mellon Foundation. He explained that ICSOM was formed as something of a checks and balances organization for the AFM.
Several presentations were made at this year’s conference. I am only writing today about those subjects that made the biggest impression on me. As my own orchestra recently negotiated its way into the AFM pension fund, I was relieved to learn why the retirement benefit multiplier had recently been lowered. Without going into great detail, it seems the reduction resulted from the Fund’s decision not to pursue relief from complicated IRS funding rules because of the onerous conditions attached to that relief, not from continued poor investment returns. In fact, the Fund has exceeded its estimated annual investment return of 7-1/2% in recent years and is projected to stay financially healthy through 2041, which is the farthest out that the actuaries have projected.
A very fine presentation was made concerning disability insurance. I learned that a lot of orchestras have quite different coverage. The importance of the types of coverage was made especially clear as the presenter, at one time a musician with the Minnesota Orchestra, was once in a battle for benefits herself and is now a legal expert on the subject. My advice as a result of this presentation would be for orchestra/negotiating committees to do a thorough review of your orchestra’s disability coverage. Consult with an expert to be sure it is adequate for your colleagues.
I have to say that I was somewhat in awe at the Conference by the number of sharp minds in the room. Further, ICSOM is in the hands of respected and highly competent leaders. One of the most important uses I see of ICSOM for any orchestra is the vast amount of available trade agreement information that ICSOM gathers. Just as one example, our last negotiating committee spent hours and hours digging through the contracts of other orchestras to learn more about their health coverage. That very information is now easily accessible on the ICSOM website. While not the policy of the Cleveland Orchestra, many orchestras include the ICSOM delegate on the negotiating committee. Because of the information available through ICSOM, I see this as an important and necessary change to consider in Cleveland.
ICSOM is doing important work. While initially feeling suckered into going to the Conference, due to everything I learned in a few short days about the people and the mission, I am most pleased that I did agree to attend. I look forward to continuing to work with the fine delegates and board of ICSOM and am certainly planning to run for ICSOM delegate this season, whether or not the location for the next Conference happens to be exotic.
Richard Waugh, Delegate, The Cleveland Orchestra
Stepping into my first ICSOM Conference this year was much like walking into a high-level chess match in progress. There is an underlying tension within the AFM in the wake of the Federation’s 2007 Convention that is undeniable. As a newcomer, I enjoyed a unique view from the sidelines as I tried to discern the position and predict the next move.
What I saw was an institution (ICSOM) on the rise, governed by highly capable and dynamic leaders, flush with pride on the heels of the very successful campaign to protect the interest of its members (and underscore its importance) in Las Vegas. I cannot stress enough how impressed I was with two things: how much can be accomplished by the concerted efforts of insightful leaders, and how much work it takes to achieve such goals. I flew back to Chautauqua (my summer gig) overwhelmingly daunted and inspired, in equal measure.
While I will issue reports to my colleagues in Virginia on all the particulars concerning pension, strike fund, health care, etc., I feel it is most important to convey the overall atmosphere of the Conference. Not being privy to the political particulars, I can only take back a general impression, and I feel very secure letting our Governing Board take care of the details. This is the message I will pass on: Stay alert, stay informed, and play an active role—change is coming, and we are the custodians of that change.
Amanda Armstrong, Delegate, Virginia Symphony
One of the great things about being the ICSOM delegate is picking up all the different perceptions orchestra members from all over the country have about what we do at these conferences. This last summer, a delegate told me that some in her orchestra thought we conducted our business while wearing funny party hats. For those who have served as delegates or attended as observers, participants, or board members, it is pretty intense but fulfilling knowing that the information that you are collecting will serve your orchestra back home. Conferences are a lot of work in a short period of time, however there is a lot of levity brought about by a sense of purpose and camaraderie from all those who attend.
This was my second ICSOM Conference, and going to Minneapolis this summer was like going to a summer music festival—I felt as though I was with musicians outside my own orchestra that shared a common purpose. One of the things I noticed about the other delegates and the board is how passionately they care for ICSOM and their orchestras. Another observation is that they care a lot about each other and the health of not just their own orchestras but each other’s. Before leaving the Conference, a lot of us were hoping we’d see each other next summer when the Conference will be held in San Francisco.
Even though I felt comfortable with my colleagues from around the country, it was reassuring to have Brian Rood, the ICSOM President and fellow Kansas City Symphony member, attend the Conference. When questions arose that I couldn’t answer about my own orchestra (quite frequently really), Brian was there to save me from drowning (quite often). I write this because it serves you and your orchestra well to have a colleague come as an observer and/or a participant to ICSOM. Schedules are tight and people never have enough time for everything, but going to these Conferences really give you the tools during negotiations and other dilemmas that every orchestra faces. I urge you all to come and be a part of the ICSOM experience.
Just don’t forget your funny hat.
Ho Anthony Ahn, Delegate, Kansas City Symphony
I’ve been serving on orchestra committees for over 25 years. I certainly knew what ICSOM was and eagerly read each edition of Senza Sordino (usually during tacet movements in rehearsal). In all that time, though, I had never attended an ICSOM Conference. It wasn’t for lack of interest, but more out of circumstance. I’ve been in orchestras with strong ICSOM delegates who reported back with the latest information from the orchestral world. Now, even though I wasn’t the Minnesota Orchestra’s delegate (a position held by my colleague Paul Gunther who is also a member of the Governing Board) I wanted to see what an ICSOM Conference was all about.
It was a particularly appropriate time—we were in the middle of our triennial exercise in justifying our existence, otherwise known as contract negotiations. I was interested in hearing what other orchestras were going through and in finding the similarities and the differences in our situations. I had also been getting questions from my colleagues about the AFM-EPF. We went into the fund in 1997. At the time it looked like one of the best moves we ever made. It freed us from the pressure of dealing with what was one of the “Big Three” of negotiations—salary, health insurance, and pension. While musicians who had retired under our combined plans over the last ten years seemed to be quite pleased, the two recent reductions in the benefit multiplier had given us cause for concern. I was very interested to see an afternoon devoted to discussion of the AFM-EPF with representatives of the fund in attendance.
In the first evening’s discussion among negotiating orchestras, it was heartening to hear the stories of recent successes but also sobering to note others’ difficulties. It was particularly troubling to hear of so many orchestras having to fight management proposals to reduce the pay for subs and extras while at the same time taking longer to fill vacancies through auditions.
Through each session—orchestra marketing, health care, pension, media, Len Leibowitz’s Thumbnail Labor History—I was struck by the amount of collective knowledge in the room. I also realized that the best ideas in the orchestra world seem to be generated by musicians. We can wait for our managements to come up with solutions, and yes, it is their job, but ultimately it is our livelihood that is at stake. I found the energy of being around people who care passionately about what they do to be very inspiring. I was also impressed with the dedication and sheer hours put in by the officers and members of the Governing Board; I’m not sure that any of them got any sleep.
I believe that all orchestra members should serve on an orchestra committee once in their careers. After this experience, I believe that all committee members should attend an ICSOM Conference once in their careers.
Norbert Nielubowski, Minnesota Orchestra