Editor’s note: There are more than 4000 active ICSOM members, and about 90% of them have never attended an ICSOM conference. To help convey what the experience is like, I’ve asked some of our more recent delegates to write about it.
Kevin Kozak, Alabama Symphony
When I took over as ICSOM delegate from long-time delegate Jeff Solomon last year, I asked him what I should expect from the conference. He said “It is a real brain trust. You will be interacting with the finest minds in the industry”. Shortly after the start of the 2013 conference in Kansas City, I realized I completely agreed with Jeff’s statement.
The ICSOM conference is inspiration and information—in equal measure, delivered powerfully and abundantly. It is soaring, eloquent rhetoric, full of passion and optimism that reminds us of our shared ideals and energizes us for the challenges we all face. It is statistics and facts that refute the negative pronouncements about our industry (and the arts in general), so frequently promulgated by the press. It is the various experts who can explain the most Byzantine matters of law or finance in a manner that can be clearly understood by all. It is the first-hand accounts from the orchestras who have been on the front lines of lockouts, work stoppages, threats and shutdowns. It is the impromptu hallway caucuses that sometimes yield as much important information as a formal presentation. It is the availability and willingness of every participant in the conference to share ideas, show support, answer questions and address concerns.
But perhaps what defines ICSOM the most is its message and exhortation: We are stronger together than individually. Information is power. Our greatest power is drawn from within our ranks, from within ICSOM, and from within each individual orchestra. We need to identify and mobilize those within our orchestras with extra-musical talents that are essential to our survival in these challenging times: editing, PR, photography, videography, web and social media skills, accounting, excel and flow charts, public speaking and press relations.
We must show the public who we are, and what we do, and not allow ourselves to be defined by others. We need to do this now. BEFORE THERE IS A CRISIS.
The days of “just playing our part” are gone. We need to be activists.
The beauty and the power of the music that we are so privileged to play must survive and thrive.
That, I believe, is ICSOM.
Paul Austin, Grand Rapids Symphony
“Hmmm … what is an ICSOM conference like? I can sum it up in one sentence. Imagine attending a gathering of the movers and shakers from peer orchestras, sharing information about what is happening in your area, and gathering key information about the latest trends as a take away, while hearing experts in our field discuss major issues and making key personal contacts, all in less than 100 hours.”
Christopher Neal, Houston Symphony
My first ICSOM conference went very quickly, and not just because I had to leave two days early. The sheer volume of useful information came so rapidly that the days seemed compressed. I returned to Houston with pages of notes and great ideas. But another real benefit was the energizing sense of unity and shared purpose that I immediately felt when I arrived. Sometimes fighting the good fight at home can feel a bit like being in the trenches—never-ending, scarce progress. I left LA feeling that the heart of the symphony is alive and well—and smart and determined.
Doug Rosenthal, Kennedy Center
You don’t get what you wish for; you get what you work for. Those words rang in my ears con tutta forza throughout the entire 2014 ICSOM Conference, “The Art of Advocacy”. They were originally spoken by Vince Trombetta (President, Local 47) in his welcoming remarks, and they were manifested in so many ways throughout the whole week. For instance, delegates participated in a “Mock Negotiation”, in which we divided into the different teams involved in a typical negotiation and carried out a scenario. During this exercise, it was fascinating to see the various ways people use their knowledge and values to approach the bargaining table and communicate with their respective team. As the title of the conference suggests, there were several presentations on how we can effectively get our music and our message into our communities. Guest speaker Randy Whatley (Cypress Media Group) showed us how to size an entire paragraph-long statement down to one concise, relatable sound-byte. He also provided insight on how we can use the delivery of our message to invoke emotions in others. Guest speaker Randy Cohen (Americans for the Arts) spoke of the many facets in which our business brings billions of dollars of prosperity into the economy every year.
While certain situations can make us feel bleak and hopeless about our industry, it was refreshing to hear the Opening Address of ICSOM Chairman Bruce Ridge. He pointed out that if success is a fluke, then there have been many flukes over the past year. He highlighted many orchestras’ accomplishments: increased ticket sales and concert attendance, growing endowments, incredible gifts and grants, new facilities, and stronger ties to communities.
As a newcomer, attending this conference opened my eyes in so many ways, and it was an absolute joy to meet the many delegates and leaders who attended from all over the continent. I wish the greatest of success for us all; or rather, I am more energized than ever to be working for it.
Mary Anne Dell’Aquila, Indianapolis Symphony
I agreed to accept the nomination for ICSOM Delegate a couple of years ago after experiencing my first work stoppage. I was reluctant to serve but after my first convention in Kansas City my attitude completely changed and that was due to the people at the conference. I was impressed by the intelligent and creative make up of the Governing Board. They were truly inspiring. The guest speakers were insightful and constructive in addressing problems many of us faced. But I was most impressed by the musicians who attended the conference. They were creative and bright individuals who were supportive and welcoming. I found the same qualities present in those attending the annual conference last August in Los Angeles and I felt lucky to be part of it.
Greg Mulligan, Baltimore Symphony
I have to admit that when I arrived in LA for my third conference, I was feeling a little burned out from all the committee work I have been doing now in Baltimore for many years. As much as I enjoyed the first day’s events at this year’s ICSOM conference, I still was quite fatigued. Amazingly to me, though, even with the full schedule of meetings and events that is part of every ICSOM conference, I actually was more energized and inspired by day three of the conference than I had been when I arrived. Hearing the remarkable story from Minnesota Orchestra musicians of the settlement of their sixteen month lockout, and the story of how Metropolitan Opera Orchestra musicians used a lot of tools in order to avoid a work stoppage there, inspires me to come back to Baltimore and continue our own work here.
Best of all, even better than the amazing presentations and discussions, is gaining the sense that ICSOM really is a family. This is how Governing Board members describe their feelings for each other, and this is how I now feel with my wonderful ICSOM colleagues from around the country. It is truly inspiring to learn of the work they all, along with musicians serving on committees, do in their orchestras. Where would be all be without ICSOM? Playing in less accomplished orchestras for a lot less compensation, that’s where!
Mark Drury, San Francisco Opera
At 62 years old I’m probably one of the oldest “new” delegates to the ICSOM Conference. However, my experience of ICSOM goes way back to 1986 when I attended the ICSOM Conference in Atlanta as a member of the negotiation committee for the Oakland Symphony. Though this was a tumultuous time for the Oakland Symphony musicians, we found solace among our colleagues at ICSOM and received a great deal of guidance and moral support, both in the Conference itself and via meetings with individual representatives attending.
My first Conference as a bona fide representative was representing the San Francisco Opera Orchestra at the 2013 Kansas City ICSOM Conference, graciously hosted by Brian Rood. I found, as I did so many years ago, that the ICSOM Conference is not only a place to learn and exchange ideas, but is also a caring and supportive environment. People always seem to want to take time to answer questions and will go out of their way for you.
Ted Botsford, Oregon Symphony
Coming away from this year’s conference, I was incredibly inspired by the energy and enthusiasm that pervaded every moment of the event. From sessions on healthcare law to crafting a concise media message, it was clear that everyone at ICSOM passionately believes in what we do both on and off the stage – and is willing to fight for it. Reflecting on the tumultuous state of our industry right now, I am encouraged by witnessing this amazing network of friends and colleagues that we can all count on for support and inspiration.
Julie Edwards, Utah Symphony
I’ve always known that musicians were a smart bunch of people but the level of intelligence that was in the conference room at any given time was just astounding to me. I really felt so honored to be there. But mostly I didn’t expect that level of solidarity. I’d heard our reps talk about it but never could have imagined what it really felt like. I think that in society we are used to ranking things, I expected to feel that I was in a rank somewhere. But amazingly the feeling in the room was that we were all equal, and all part of the same experience, and all unified, no matter how long our orchestra’s season, regardless of whether we held a titled or section position.