Most of the time I sit down to write and the ideas just flow. This time the spirit is willing but the inspiration hasn’t been forthcoming. Call it writer’s block, the weather, or a really busy schedule. Or maybe it’s like approaching John Adams’ Harmonielehre for the first time. As a string player you face page after page of never ending notes and patterns, but the notes are periodically interrupted by a note change or a rest. God forbid you should misstep, because then you are in utter confusion. You can’t count on the person next to you because they’re playing a different line, and behind you your section members are playing an entirely different part.
Or maybe it’s all the above! It’s certainly a time of great confusion, and there doesn’t appear to be much clarity on the horizon. Take our misbehaving Congress, for example. Members of each party brag about sticking to their guns, even when it’s apparent that such a failure to lead—to do the right thing for all the people, not just special interest groups or major campaign donors—puts the entire country in jeopardy. And, of course, we have two boards of directors in Minnesota—public trustees of the Minnesota Orchestra and the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra—fighting over the title of worst caretakers ever as they refuse to back off untenable positions and to negotiate in good faith for the benefit of their orchestras and communities.
Both Congress and these two boards exhibit the worst kind of unproductive behavior. Every day I continue to hope that other boards and managers in this country will come to the realization that this type of futile, horrible conduct is incredibly counterproductive and is causing great harm to their institutions. Only when musicians, managers, boards, and communities work together in an honest dialogue can problematic situations find resolution. More than anything else, being honest and showing true respect for others’ opinions goes a very long way.
When life seems difficult and frustrating, I suspect that we all look for the positive things in our lives—things that make us glad we do what we love, such as attending, or, even better, participating in a truly inspiring performance. Or we look for inspiration from the actions of others, such as the recent support for Minnesota Orchestra musicians by members of the San Francisco Symphony. Member at Large Cathy Payne, a passionate advocate for ICSOM’s orchestras, on her own purchased a large number of Minnesota Orchestra musician T-shirts. Not letting things rest there, she then convinced her colleagues to show their support by buying (at purposely inflated prices) and wearing those T-shirts, sending a substantial contribution to support musicians who have been locked out since October.
Or there is the inspiring individual recently featured by the Nashville Symphony as narrator of Schoenberg’s Survivor from Warsaw. He seemed an odd choice to narrate this particular work until we understood that, as a child of five during World War II, he and his entire family survived one of the most humiliating experiences imaginable—being forcibly removed from their Los Angeles home and relegated to an Arkansas internment camp. Today he is an internationally acclaimed actor. Unlike many guest artists who head straight to their dressing rooms after a performance, he deliberately came backstage to mingle with orchestra and chorus during intermission. He was soft spoken and genuinely engaged each person who asked him to sign something or pose for a picture. But he is no shrinking violet and has used his experiences to help change attitudes about prejudice in our society. This passionate advocate for change is George Takei, someone I’ve admired since I first saw his as Mr. Sulu on Star Trek when I was a child. He impressed me greatly and made me want to work that much harder to be a strong advocate for the important work of orchestras in our communities.
My colleagues on the ICSOM Governing Board also inspire me. Our recent midwinter meeting in Chicago offered me another chance to catch up with my friends, to hear about Chairperson Ridge’s visits with member orchestras, to catch up on what other orchestras are doing, and to begin our 2013 ICSOM Conference planning.
One of the issues we discussed concerned our newly redesigned ICSOM website. Anyone visiting the site at www.icsom.org recently has undoubtedly seen the wonderful photos of many of our orchestras, as well as the Conference photo and Senza Sordino archives. (Those orchestras not yet represented through pictures on the website are encouraged to submit photos so we can be even more inclusive.) Until recently, ICSOM settlement bulletins were available to everyone on the website. However, concerns were raised that all of the details in those bulletins should not necessarily be so readily available to any Tom, Dick or Robert (Flanagan). In mid-January, access to settlement bulletins was limited to ICSOM members.
Last September, ICSOM webmaster Charles Noble began contacting delegates and orchestra committee chairs to set up password access for the ICSOM website. The new website has a great deal of material on it, but some of it is sensitive and therefore protected. Information such as governing board minutes, rosters, and certain conference materials are now available only to delegates and committee chairs, but the entire archive of Conference minutes dating back to 1962 is available to all ICSOM members, as are the aforementioned settlement bulletins (both current and archived).
We are in the process of editing video from last summer’s historic Conference in Chicago and plan to post many of the speeches online. We are also in the process of updating Tom Hall’s comprehensive history of ICSOM, ICSOM: Forty Years of the International Conference of Symphony and Opera Musicians, which was published 10 years ago to celebrate ICSOM’s 40th anniversary. Rather than publishing another book, we plan to offer all this information on the website and to update the material going forward. We will also be adding materials from the George Zazofsky ICSOM Archives, a number of which were on display last summer at the Conference.
We hope you will visit the ICSOM website and sign up to access this information. Perhaps you will find something to inspire you.