Fred Zenone was ICSOM’s fifth chairman, serving from 1980 to 1986. Before becoming chairman, he served four years as Eastern area vice-chairman and two years as ICSOM vice-chairman.
Some of the most notable accomplishments in ICSOM’s history were made during Fred’s time in office. Under his leadership ICSOM built coalitions and expanded liaisons with the AFM, the Major Orchestra Managers Conference, and the American Symphony Orchestra League (of which he became a board member). He helped to open lines of communication with European orchestras, allowing for the exchange of information about administration, structure, and funding.
One of the fruits of increased communication with managers was a policy recommendation from the Major Orchestra Managers Conference in 1983 that ICSOM orchestra managements should cooperate fully in allowing their orchestras’ ICSOM delegates paid time off to attend ICSOM Conferences. Another was the Code of Ethical Audition Practices, which was approved by ICSOM, the Major Orchestra Managers Conference, and the AFM in 1984. In 1983, two important changes to the AFM bylaws for orchestra musicians also happened under Fred’s leadership—the requirement that symphony, opera, and ballet orchestra collective bargaining agreements be submitted to orchestras for ratification, and a resolution urging locals to reimburse delegates for expenses to the annual ICSOM Conference.
Fred served on ICSOM’s media committee for many years. He also served as one of the musicians on the orchestra panel of the National Endowment of the Arts from 1980 to 1983, being named co-chairman during his final year. With statesman-like skill, he was a frequent member of “swat” teams invited by troubled orchestra to help flesh out solutions to some of the most difficult problems in the field.
The job of ICSOM chairman grew considerably under Fred’s leadership. That was one reason why, in 1984, there was a reorganization of ICSOM’s organizational structure. The office of ICSOM President was established in order to facilitate communications with and services to orchestras. Area vice-chair positions were replaced by members-at-large. A President’s Council was also established consisting of orchestra committee leaders selected from a broad spectrum of ICSOM orchestras.
Originally a trumpet player who was looking forward to a career as a public school music teacher after graduating from Indiana University of Pennsylvania, Fred fell in love with the cello at the ripe age of 21, and his life took an unexpected turn that had a profound effect on the world of American orchestras. With amazing determination, he managed to be accepted by prominent cello teachers: first, Orlando Cole and, later, David Soyer. That determination paid off when he joined the cello section of the National Symphony Orchestra in 1969. That same year there was a six-week strike at the National Symphony Orchestra. Later Fred joined the orchestra committee, becoming its chairman and seeing his orchestra through another strike in 1978.
Fred was a true visionary who sought ways to improve the quality of work life for orchestral musicians. In 1981 he addressed the American Symphony Orchestra League conference calling for changes in our organizations, as well as changes of attitude among managers and board members, that would address the changing growth needs of individual musicians as they pass through career stages.
After retiring from the National Symphony Orchestra in 1999, Fred continued his efforts to help improve the quality of work life for musicians. He joined the board of directors of the Symphony Orchestra Institute in 1999, having been on its board of advisors since 1994. He was the Symphony Orchestra Institute’s president from 2001 to 2004. In 2001, along with colleague Paul Boulian, Fred was a presenter at the ICSOM Conference in San Diego. In 2003, Fred and Paul participated as facilitators in the negotiation of a contract for the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra.
Fred’s contributions to our field cannot be overstated. He will certainly be missed, and his help, achievements, and dedication should long be remembered.
What follows are tributes and remembrances of people who knew and worked with Fred.
I witnessed Fred’s work in awe. He was a transformational chair, a true visionary, tireless and crackling with intelligence and creativity. He created and nurtured new alliances, and succeeded in bringing ICSOM to the next level and beyond, a heroic achievement that I think remains at ICSOM’s heart today.
—Liza Hirsch Medina
I first met Fred at the 1974 ICSOM Conference, and thus began both a personal and professional relationship that lasted over 35 years. It was my privilege and pleasure to serve as vice-chairman of ICSOM, and chairman of the ICSOM media committee while Fred was chairman of ICSOM. For me, working with him was both a fascinating and rewarding experience. Fascinating because I was always amazed at the way he could see into problems. Rewarding because more often than not he could find a solution when none appeared to be present.
His list of accomplishments in service to the field is lengthy, and his influence on the field will continue even though he is gone. Many do not know that it was through Fred’s efforts that ratification of symphony contracts became a right under AFM bylaws, not a privilege granted by local unions. Fred fostered the creation of an active and potent Symphony Department and proactively supported the organizing efforts of Lew Waldeck and the department. It was under his leadership that the Symphony Audio Visual Contract was created. The AV agreement not only revolutionized media for symphonic orchestras but also influenced other AFM media contracts. His last big project as ICSOM chairman was to change the governance structure of ICSOM to make it more responsive to the member orchestras, and more able to deal with unforeseen problems in the future.
I believe that his lasting legacy to us will be his efforts after he left ICSOM to find options, and solutions for how musicians interact with the institutions that employ them. One of my favorite pictures is of Fred, Bill Foster, and “Slava” Rostropovich walking with arms linked, daring the U.S. Park Police to arrest them during a strike by the National Symphony. Although as that picture demonstrated, Fred was no stranger to confrontational tactics, he was very concerned by the often difficult relationship between musicians and their orchestras, and he spent the last 20 years of his life looking for answers to that difficult relationship. His work on behalf of symphony, opera and ballet musicians was monumental, and his legacy enduring.
I first met him when I was retained by the National Symphony musicians to represent them in their contract negotiations. I believe it was my second engagement by the NSO, because I remember that he was new on the committee. It was his first stint, but it was immediately clear to me that he was going to be the leader of that committee, all future committees on which he would serve, and ultimately the orchestra itself. Since that first NSO negotiation, my relationship with Fred grew proportionately to his ascendancy from the leader of his own orchestra, to his role as ICSOM delegate from the NSO, and, ultimately to his election as chairman of ICSOM.
His accomplishments as chair of ICSOM and his role as the symphony, opera, and ballet musicians’ ambassador to the industry have been recalled quite extensively and accurately by others who have expressed condolences and reminiscences of him. I need not repeat, but merely express my admiration for those accomplishments now, as I admired them when they occurred.
Having worked so closely with him over all those years, my recollections are also of a very personal nature. His intelligence, wisdom, demeanor and even his voice were the ingredients that made him one of the most natural leaders of people that I have ever known. I should not forget to mention his charm and wit, which made our working together so enjoyable. He will always be prominent in the pantheon of heroes who transformed the working lives of thousands of musicians for now and for generations to come.
Fred Zenone was a special friend who was deeply committed to classical music and particularly the symphony orchestra art form, both as a talented musician and, through the years, as an acute observer of symphony organizations. He shared quite equally with me a passion to bring about change in how participants in these organizations, particularly musicians, viewed their roles, going well beyond being just music performers. He was dedicated to having musicians more involved in organizational activities and decision-making, as well as in music making and, in the process, to achieve more liberating and fulfilling lives. Fred for one did achieve that goal. He was a delightful and engaging friend. He will be missed by all who knew him. Perhaps other musicians will over time follow Fred’s footsteps and help bring about the change in attitudes which will be required if symphony organizations are to survive and excel in an increasingly complex world.
Fred Zenone was more than a “great man;” he was a visionary, a pioneer, and a master. A number of times during the last 15 years when Fred and I worked together, he would become introspective and reflect on what had or had not been accomplished for his fellow musicians and for the field. He would lament difficulty of moving forward, the state of the field, and his contribution to its evolution. He spoke not representing one party or another, but as a man of vision and passion with the ability to see through the eyes of everyone.
In the years I worked with Fred, he was tireless and relentless in his devotion and dedication to assuring the stability and viability of the art form he loved so much. He could see in his mind’s-eye the next part of the vision for the field. In September of this year he and I reflected on the struggle and opportunities ahead. Maybe because of his physical situation, he thought it seemed easier back in the “early” days. But I cannot imagine that when he started the journey it was any easier or more difficult. It is always hard to create a transformational change.
The greatest tribute to Fred would be for the field to appreciate and act vigorously and courageously on his vision in the areas of unifying community, musicians, staff, board, and music director; governance; musician, staff, and board development; the quality of musician and staff work-life; and uplifting the spirit of musicians and staff. This would extend and continue his legacy like nothing else. Fred will be missed by all of us who knew him (and by those who did not), but he can rest peacefully knowing that he changed all of our lives and that he laid the foundation for changing us even more: if only we could listen to his voice and see his vision.
The importance of the roles that Fred played in the American orchestral scene cannot be overstated. He was a true visionary—someone with one eye on the rights of musicians, and the other eye on the responsibilities that go with those rights. Over the many years that I worked with Fred, at the National Symphony Orchestra in the early 1980s and after, I learned from him more than I can ever express. In addition, Fred and I served as a mediation team for labor negotiations in a number of difficult situations around the country, and again—I learned from him, and we both benefitted from the perspectives of each other. I believe that we made a real difference in those situations, and in some other consulting roles we played together too—in cities like Buffalo, Nashville, San Antonio, and Honolulu. Fred’s wisdom, his human qualities, his ability to see all sides of an issue and to find ways to bring people together, was unique. He was a figure of huge importance, and I am not sure that it was always recognized to the extent it deserved to be. I, along with his many friends and colleagues and the field of American orchestras as a whole, are going to miss him very much. If the mark of a person, when his life is looked at, is “did he make a difference?”—there are very few people for whom the answer would be more strongly in the affirmative than Fred Zenone. He definitely made a difference.