I have been thinking a great deal recently about the importance of civil discourse. A few years back I wrote about what I perceived as a “culture of hostility” in our field. I meant this to include both the relationships between musicians and managers, as well as the relationships among musicians themselves. Every season we elect some of our colleagues to endure a most onerous task, that of serving on the orchestra committee, and then we all too frequently reward their offer of volunteer service with abuse instead of support.
Of course, the democratic process that we all embrace should welcome an avenue for disagreements and respectful debate. But all too often this disagreement is expressed in the form of personal attacks and name-calling. We are all the weaker as a result.
Throughout my work in these past two years as chair of ICSOM, time and time again I have received calls from committee chairs who are facing personal criticism as they try to serve. I always counsel them with the advice that if everybody liked you, it would probably mean that you were doing something wrong.
One of my teachers told me many years ago, “If you are going to stand for anything in this world, there will be people who will stand against you. Some will oppose you because of what you stand for, and others will oppose you simply because you are able to stand.”
As I look out across the ICSOM landscape, I see great reason for hope, and I feel an uplifting optimism. Every time we have asked our member orchestras to act as a unified body, they have done so. You all responded to our friends in Jacksonville during their time of need by sending nearly $100,000. As I write this, our orchestras have sent over $70,000 to Columbus in the first 21 days since the latest Call to Action was issued.
Through uniting, and through seeking a richer dialogue, we can defeat the culture of hostility. Our organization is strong enough to welcome dissension, provided that we decide not to tolerate personal attacks.
All of this occurs to me this evening because I am deeply concerned about the future of the AFM. You have all heard of the conflict that exists between the AFM administration and the Recording Musicians Association (RMA). Our concerns were so great last summer that the 2007 ICSOM delegates passed a resolution calling for unity. In that resolution, we said:
WHEREAS, The current disputes between the AFM administration and the Recording Musicians Association threaten to tear apart this great union;
Therefore, be it RESOLVED, That the 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 the members of the AFM and their families.
I’m saddened to tell you that the relationship between the AFM and the RMA has worsened, and indeed I feel that the very survival of this union is at risk. It is my hope that ICSOM might play a role in bridging the terrible chasm that exists.
The strengthening of the unity within ICSOM offers great hope for this union, its members, and musicians everywhere. But our unity must be nurtured. We are not without our problems.
Perhaps the most potentially divisive issue that symphonic musicians face is in the area of media. There is a great disparity of opinion, and these opinions are quite strongly held. As many have observed, it is interesting that media would be the source of division within the symphonic ranks, since it produces just a small amount of our income. But, it is vitally important to our future, and we will have to engage in debate as new technologies offer new opportunities. It is equally important for us to work to preserve fair compensation for the highly skilled labor we perform, especially when that labor is even more difficult to perform with a microphone and camera two inches from your bell, bow or brow.
Despite these concerns I feel the sense of community is growing among our orchestras. That strength is entirely due to the musicians who perform nightly, and their elected committee leaders who voluntarily surrender time with their families to serve all of us.
In this year, I have been inspired by the dedication and altruistic service of our musician leaders from Jacksonville, Columbus, and elsewhere across the country. I have been moved by the overwhelming response of our orchestras to their colleagues in need. While others might be mired in dissension, ICSOM aspires to a greater goal. I hope that we have only just begun to accomplish even greater things for our field. But to do that, we must reject the culture of hostility. We must continue to elevate the tone of our debates, and we must always strive to avoid expressing our disagreements through personal attacks.
Thank you all for your friendship and support, and I look forward to visiting with your elected delegates at our annual conference in San Francisco in just a few weeks.