One of my most moving moments of last season came on January 14, while in Tampa. I walked into a meeting of the committees of the Florida Orchestra, and they handed me a check for $800 to send to the Minnesota Orchestra musicians. What I knew at that time, but couldn’t quite reveal for another hour or so, was on that day the most egregious lockout in the history of orchestras had finally ended. The response to our Call to Action to support the Locked Out Musicians of the Minnesota Orchestra gave tremendous and tangible support to their effort, and their efforts were indeed made on behalf of all us.
When we act together our voices will be heard as clearly as our music. I have been reading a book this summer on how the internet and tools such as Twitter have changed how we all communicate and organize. The impact on world events has been immeasurable. In the revolution that overthrew Hosni Mubarak, Egyptians armed with little more than smartphones in their pocket rose up together through communications on Twitter, and they accomplished a revolution in a country where you needed a permit from the government to gather in groups larger than five.
Authoritarian governments use three techniques to suppress the spirits of the people they attempt to control. They use isolation, fear, and apathy.
Through isolation they intend to keep the like-minded citizens of the world from organizing.
Through fear they intend to suppress the actions of the people through the knowledge of what might happen to them should they dare to rise.
And apathy is really futility. Through apathy they create a sense of “what can I do? I am just one person.”
By no means do I intend to compare recent horrific world events with the plight of the artist in North America, but it occurs to me that these same techniques are used by less nefarious factions to control the thinking of a people. In the battle for advocacy of our place as artists and musicians in society, there is an attempt to keep us isolated, to keep us fearful, and to keep us apathetic.
As the current border crisis expands, there are many who have responded by carrying accusatory signs and shouting epithets of hatred and division. But the musicians of the San Diego Symphony responded by joining with the musicians of the Orquesta Baja California to play Bach on opposite sides of a border fence in a profound demonstration of peace in a very noisy world.
We will not be isolated. We will not be fearful. We will not be apathetic.
Currently ICSOM is building what we believe is the most important Twitter feed in classical music. We have over 6000 followers, and that allows us to spread our message instantly around the world, but we need 10,000 followers, we need 15,000. We must use this tool to spread the importance of the arts in education, in health, in financial impact, and in the elevation of the human spirit at a time when inspiration is harder and harder to find. Musicians must deliver that inspiration to a slumping world, and we will.
Our friendships with each other have never been closer or more needed. Those of us in this network of friends have a shared legacy, a shared childhood, a shared present, and a shared future. Whether we realize it or not, we have never been more powerful than we are right now.
And while it is a dark world, it is also a beautiful world. And we add beauty to this world every time we walk on stage with our col- leagues, knowing that our friends across North America and the world are walking on to their stages as well at the very same time to spread the very same message of hope.
Our Conference theme was The Art of Advocacy, and this coming year we will pursue that art as vigorously as we pursue the art of music. It will only be through the art of advocacy that we will achieve our expectation of a thriving musical and cultural society across North America and throughout the world. When others merely talk about what is sustainable, we will talk about what is achievable. When others say what can’t be done, musicians will demonstrate what is possible by joining together through our united network of friends to spread our message of hope.
We will not be isolated. We will not be fearful. We will not be apathetic.
This is not a time to feel darkness for the world. This is a time for all of us to bring light to the souls that we know are burdened. It is not too trite to say “We are the music makers and we are the dreamers of dreams.” We must not doubt ourselves, or allow negative voices to influence us.
We will greet any doubts with a unified message of hope. We will stand in favor of any positive message, and we will continue to care for each other as the united network of friends that we are.
Four days after the conclusion of the 2014 ICSOM Conference in Los Angeles, my mother died. She would want me to use that word “died,” as through her singular sense of humor she always remarked on obituaries that sought to find gentle euphemisms for death. I am heartbroken, but that will subside as I remember again the joy I always felt with her and through her.
My mother was a teacher. Einstein once said “It is the supreme art of the teacher to awaken joy in creative expression and knowledge.” That was what my mother did for me, and for countless children. She was especially skilled at reaching those children in need that could not be reached by others. She positively changed the lives of many, and those she assisted through childhood difficulties are now raising their own families having benefited from the love she gave them, and the trust she earned.
From her example I learned that we are always at our best when as- sisting others, and that the world is a community in need of support, inspiration, love, kindness, education, and forgiveness.
Much has happened in these two weeks since she died. I have been so touched by the support and love I have received from so many musicians across the world. It is really a tribute to my mother, be- cause whatever I’ve been able to accomplish in my life would have been inconceivable without her.
ICSOM is a united network of friends, and I have never felt that more than in these two weeks. But it is not just the support shown to me at this difficult time, but also the love and support shown to the locked out musicians of the Atlanta Symphony. The musicians of that great orchestra now face an unprecedented second lockout in two years after their management inexplicably chose to drink once again from this punitive well.
ICSOM has issued a Call to Action to raise funds to support the musicians, and in the first days of the Call the response has been inspiring, raising almost $125,000 in just two weeks. But we all must endeavor to find ways to support these great musicians. This destructive tactic of locking out musicians must end, and it is up to all of us to stand in unity with Atlanta Symphony players as they work to save their institution and the historic legacy of Robert Shaw.
It is fatiguing to always feel that we are working against something, or trying to prevent something. As we go forward, we will talk about things to work for and positive visions that we can imagine and achieve.
We will not be isolated. We will not be fearful. We will not be apathetic. The world will hear our voices just as they have always heard our music. I look forward to continuing our work together in this cause.
Editor’s note: This is adapted from the Opening Address to the 2014 ICSOM Conference. The text of the entire address can be found here