One late night during this summer’s ICSOM Conference in Detroit, delegates gathered informally in the chairman’s suite to watch the documentary Music Makes a City. This beautiful film describes how the Louisville Orchestra was founded 74 years ago by the visionary mayor Charles Farnsley, who realized that the orchestra could lift the city out of the long Great Depression punctuated by devastating floods.
Mayor Farnsley believed in the concept of Confucianism that held that a city of high culture, with happy citizens, will attract wealth, business, and power. The Louisville Orchestra went on to commission 120 works of American composers and to perform 400 world premieres. The orchestra has broadcast the name of the city of Louisville throughout the world, and the greatest musicians in any country own recordings of this famed orchestra.
Many of the delegates watching the documentary that evening were moved to tears, I think not only because of the beauty of the film and the music, but also due to the injustice currently being perpetrated against the orchestra by its management and board.
Throughout this year the management of the Louisville Orchestra, Inc. has constantly threatened its great musicians with the prospect of being replaced entirely by a new group of musicians, and it set a final deadline of 5:00 p.m. on October 31—a true Halloween trick. But as despicable as this action is, and as undignified as it is to issue threats, the management didn’t even wait for the deadline before spreading a flyer across the country that proclaimed a “National Call for Applications” for “permanent positions” for “qualified symphonic musicians looking for permanent employment to replace musicians who are on strike.”
Not only is such an attempt to replace an ICSOM orchestra unprecedented and destructive, but the ad itself is inaccurate. The musicians of the Louisville Orchestra are not on strike. Rather, they have been dismissed in the midst of a negotiation for failing to accept an ultimatum that was issued despite the involvement of the Louisville mayor’s office in mediation.
ICSOM immediately issued a statement, titled “Urgent: Do Not Accept Work From the Louisville Orchestra, Inc.,” which said in part:
[T]he Louisville Orchestra, Inc. has begun recruiting replacement musicians …. Both the Louisville Orchestra, Inc. and the Kentucky Opera have been placed on the American Federation of Musicians’ (AFM) International Unfair List, and accepting work from these two groups could generate fines and penalties.
But it is not just the Unfair List that should deter anyone from accepting this work—the fact is that it would simply be wrong to do so.
Any musician accepting such work would not be serving the cause of art in America, or serving their career and family. Musicians accepting work as replacements would be taking food out of the mouths of fellow musicians, as well as depriving them and their children of health insurance …. Any musician accepting such work would be building a career on quick sand.
The symphonic musicians of North America perform as a united network of friends. It is crucial that we stand together on this issue, not only for the musicians of Louisville, but for the future of musicians everywhere.
ICSOM’s statement went on to urge that we all spread the message about this egregious action, saying:
Please post this message in your studios, and please send it to your students everywhere, as well as the colleagues in your orchestra …. Post it on your Facebook pages. Spread the message everywhere that musicians of ICSOM, ROPA, and OCSM will always stand together.
Musicians all across the world did indeed spread this message. Immediately the word began spreading on Facebook, Twitter, and websites across the world. It was posted by the AFM on its website, as well as on the websites of countless locals across the country.
Local 802 President Tino Gagliardi sent an e-mail blast to all Local 802 members, and the AFM also sent the notice, along with a message from Symphonic Services Division Director Jay Blumenthal, to every member. Our friends at FIM (Fédération Internationale des Musiciens, or International Federation of Musicians) posted it internationally and spread the word to its members. ROPA and OCSM posted it to their news lists, musicians in every orchestra shared the message with their colleagues, and it appeared on countless message boards, instrument forums, and internationally read blogs. From what we can tell, it appears to have been re-posted on Facebook alone well over 1000 times.
As terrible as the situation is in Louisville, it none the less was gratifying to watch as our urgent message was spread so quickly around the world. The tools available to ICSOM through the Internet and social networking make it all the more amazing to think of what ICSOM’s founders were able to accomplish without such tools. As we approach our 50th anniversary in 2012, it is overwhelming to think of the results that those who went before were able to achieve. Before the Internet, and before social networking, ICSOM chairs had to place hundreds and hundreds of phone calls to send such an urgent message. Today, with the assistance of our united network of members and friends, a message of such urgency can be spread with the click of a mouse. The fact that our visionary founders were able to unify so many orchestras back in 1962, without word processing, Twitter, or even ready access to Xerox machines, is just remarkable.
In spreading the message about the importance of educating young musicians about the destructive nature of these proposed replacement auditions, we did reach out through more traditional tools as well, placing calls and writing to many of the nation’s most prestigious music schools. ICSOM officers, along with Jay Blumenthal and in coordination with many AFM local presidents, spoke to as many leaders of music conservatories as we could reach. Alumni of music schools wrote to their alma maters. It was indeed heartening to hear unanimously that the advertisement from the Louisville Orchestra, Inc. would not be posted at their schools, and almost unanimously that their students would be actively discouraged from taking any such audition.
I have continued to monitor the online conversation, especially on the instrument forums. There were messages that concerned me, and there were messages that inspired me. On the negative side, I read statements like “Not only is it (accepting replacement work) not wrong, but it is an opportunity” and “good work if you can find it.” But on the positive side, each posting that I read that might seem to indicate someone was considering taking these auditions was met with a message urging them not to do so, calling for solidarity, and educating the message board about the facts. There was easily a 5 to 1 ratio in support of the Louisville musicians. That is encouraging. It was also great to see the discussion was overwhelmingly positive in nature without a lot of name calling.
Especially when reaching out to young students, we need to educate and not intimidate.
One posting did stand out to me though, when someone wrote, “I’m also saying that I can’t blame a musician go [sic] gets an opportunity these days, even a stinky one.” While this person would seem to be indicating that he or she would understand musicians replacing other musicians, the signature tag was ironically “Together We Are Invincible.”
This experience demonstrated that we have come a long way in developing our use of the Internet and social networking, and we have come even a longer way in educating all generations of musicians about the importance of unity and understanding the field in which we work, perform, and live. But it also demonstrated that we have even farther to go.
For the musicians of Louisville, every member of ICSOM stands with you. We hope that soon a solution can be reached that will allow the orchestra to continue its service to the people of Kentucky.
Every member of ICSOM can continue to help. Keep spreading the word that no musician should audition for a replacement orchestra anywhere, and remember that funds to assist the musicians in Louisville are still needed. ICSOM issued Calls to Action for both Louisville and Syracuse earlier this year, and any contributions to both groups will help those musicians care for their families.
We must stand together to create a better future for the arts in America. John Lennon said: “A dream you dream alone is only a dream. A dream you dream together is reality.” A better future is achievable for musicians everywhere, and we must not hesitate to dream great dreams simply because they are hard to achieve. Together, we can take one step closer to realizing our dreams by stopping the effort to replace the musicians of the historic Louisville Orchestra.