T he 2008 ICSOM Conference, held in San Francisco this past August, provided an ideal opportunity to meet with delegates and to learn from our many presenters about important issues that affect ICSOM musicians and their orchestras. Special thanks go to President David Schoenbrun and AFM Local 6 (San Francisco), ICSOM Delegates Thalia Moore, Leslie Ludena, Cathy Payne, alternate delegate Steven D’Amico, and Conference Coordinator Brian Lee for their terrific work and warm hospitality.
Of particular interest was the keynote address/presentation given by Randy Cohen, vice president of Americans for the Arts (AFTA). Mr. Cohen spoke passionately about his organization’s efforts to reach out across the nation trumpeting the tremendous positive economic impact and cultural value of the arts. Mr. Cohen showed several creative examples of materials designed to promote arts advocacy that were produced by AFTA for use by the Ad Council and other media outlets. ICSOM has long sought to partner with a national organization that would advocate for symphony orchestras and the arts in general. Now, ICSOM has found a willing partner in AFTA. Not only delegates, but all ICSOM musicians are encouraged to learn more about AFTA’s advocacy campaigns and how we can strengthen the ties between our orchestras and communities. A laudable goal would be for each and every community to believe that its orchestra is essential to their own local quality of life and ultimately indispensable.
Over the past several years, a key priority for ICSOM has been to counter the negative “gloom and doom” generated by the press, a few orchestra boards, and even other arts organizations. Nowhere have the effects of this negative rhetoric been more visible and damaging than in Columbus and Shreveport.
Earlier this year Stanford Professor Robert Flanagan published his “findings” about professional orchestra budgets and musicians’ compensation. Observations regarding this report have been written by ICSOM’s chair, president, and secretary, and may be found in the March and July issues of Senza Sordino. As is the case with all issues of Senza Sordino, these are also available online at www.icsom.org/senza/.
In the June issue of Senza I posed the following question: “Who will be the first management and/or board to use the Flanagan Report against their own musicians during negotiations?” Some industry management leaders immediately expressed skepticism for and annoyance with my question.
Yet the Flanagan Report found its way onto the website home pages of orchestras in both Columbus and Shreveport just weeks after its release. In both cases, there was a clear effort to justify board/management positions that musicians’ compensation, complements, and contract length needed to be radically and impetuously reduced.
How many more orchestra tragedies will it take before orchestra industry leadership truly recognizes and takes responsibility for the harmful consequences of issuing such reports? Musicians often hear business analogies when we participate in discussions concerning our orchestras. How many businesses succeed by commissioning and then circulating reports designed to display negative aspects of the very business they aim to promote, let alone using incomplete and flawed data? Would not our collective energies be better spent working to build stronger relationships nationally and within our own communities? ICSOM welcomes the opportunity to work together with AFTA and others who wish to genuinely support and promote the exceptional economic and cultural value our orchestras provide.
On a related note, ICSOM Secretary Ross and I enjoyed participating in a unique strategic planning retreat hosted by AFM Local 7 (Orange County, California) and members of the Pacific Symphony Players Association. Following the conclusion of the ICSOM Conference, Laura and I flew to Orange County where we were joined by SSD Negotiator Chris Durham and ROPA President Carla Lehmeier-Tatum. The Pacific Symphony Players Association and AFM Local 7 are now jointly studying the Pacific Symphony’s current service and schedule structure to better understand what the musicians might envision for their future. They are to be commended for being so proactive with negotiations that are several years away as to allow thoughtful strategic planning before the normal crisis mode generally associated with contract negotiations hits. As a side note, this meeting might well have been the first of its kind involving an AFM local, a players’ committee, and representatives from SSD, ROPA, and ICSOM.
In early September, ICSOM Chair Ridge and I traveled to the Eastman School of Music for a discussion about Polyphonic.org. Along with committee chairs from several ICSOM orchestras and others, we provided feedback to Polyphonic staff members regarding the impact of the Polyphonic.org website. We agreed that Polyphonic continues to provide a valuable and interesting resource to symphonic musicians, to aspiring musicians still in school, and to others interested in the various aspects of a musician’s life.
Finally, I would like to express my utmost admiration of and appreciation to our colleagues in the Columbus Symphony Orchestra for their steadfast resolve and solidarity. Together with Local 103 and its president, Doug Fisher, and with the support of their lead negotiator Len Leibowitz (our own Distinguished ICSOM Legal Counsel), they stood together under the direst of circumstances at great emotional stress and financial personal sacrifice. I am equally proud of the tremendous outpouring of support that came not only from ICSOM musicians but also many other AFM musicians and friends, including Jaap Van Zweeden, the music director of the Dallas Symphony Orchestra. We all hope that the Columbus community will nurture the CSO board and management in order to make the changes needed to ensure the survival and continued growth of one of their greatest assets, the Columbus Symphony Orchestra.