What do you do when your orchestra has voted to take two sets of cuts within a five-month period—the first “voluntary” and the other under the threat of bankruptcy—resulting in an ensemble full of frustrated and angry members? How do you convince volunteers to serve on an orchestra committee that may engage in conversations about further possible cuts? In the case of the few remaining musicians on the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra Committee, you call in Bruce Ridge, chair of the International Conference of Symphony and Opera Musicians, for a site visit.
The decision to have Bruce come to Baltimore was a good one. He flew into Baltimore on Sunday, September 27, 2009. After lots of listening, many questions, and a few suggestions, Bruce departed on Tuesday afternoon leaving behind a revitalized and more engaged collection of musicians. Maybe we musicians are no more united in how to meet the future demands of our board than we were before his visit, but after Bruce’s visit we were able to fill all seven positions on our orchestra committee, and those people have hit the ground running to get clear about our orchestra’s priorities for the future. Bruce brought together a diverse group of musicians who respectfully and passionately shared our sorrows over the possible loss of our collective dream of continued growth as a major orchestra.
Our new orchestra committee has decided to use co-chairs this season, Laurie Sokoloff and Robert Barney, both of whom had something to say about Bruce’s visit to Baltimore. Following Bruce’s visit, Bob wrote: “It is too early to say which direction we will be going in Baltimore, but I think Bruce may have helped to plant a seed that can grow into something big. The most heartening moment of his visit for me was when I came late to a well-attended orchestra meeting he was leading that was already two hours long and still going strong. I started feeling like we still have the spirit we need in Baltimore, and for what it’s worth, this helped me decide to take the plunge back into committee work. Thanks, Bruce! Wish I had picked your brain more while you were here.”
Laurie added: “It was an extreme pleasure to meet and get to know Bruce. As a co-chair with only one year’s previous committee experience, I appreciated the chance to learn from his experience and counsel. Bruce obviously enjoys his work, and it was heartening to see the orchestra respond so positively to his enthusiasm and spirit. I really enjoyed my time with him, and it was evident the orchestra did as well. Even after last summer’s demoralizing negotiations, Bruce was able to get us to see the opportunities that exist here. I applaud Bruce and ICSOM’s generous support in providing these services. Thank you!”
During his time in Baltimore, the ICSOM chair met with small groups of musicians at a player’s home, at a local watering hole, and at a well-attended orchestra meeting. And in order for Bruce to have a better understanding of the Baltimore musicians’ situation, Bruce also met with our president/CEO and a member of our board of directors. Bruce also got to hear the orchestra in rehearsal, which, Bruce says, is a highlight of every site visit he makes.
For many musicians, it was the first real, live, and meaningful encounter with ICSOM beyond receiving Senza Sordinos, the annual directory, and annual post-conference reports. Before discussing Baltimore’s issues at the orchestra meeting, Bruce educated our membership about the problems ICSOM and the other AFM player conferences are having with our national union and its leadership. He invited all musicians to subscribe to Orchestra-L to stay knowledgeable about industry issues. And Bruce asked the Baltimore musicians to support Americans for the Arts, an organization that ICSOM believes does a superior job of advocacy for the arts and our profession.
One of the messages Bruce delivered to the Baltimore musicians was that we should commit not only to playing our best musically onstage, but also to delivering the most positive messages to our community about who we are and what we stand for while offstage. If our non-musician leadership is unable or unwilling to be advocates for the orchestra in our community, then we must. Ultimately, it is our jobs that are on the line.