This year’s conference, the 55th Annual ICSOM Conference, was held August 23-26 at the Adam’s Mark hotel in Buffalo, New York, and was hosted by the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra and Local 92. The week began with a 72% partial eclipse on Monday, followed by a rainstorm on Tuesday that caused all sorts of travel problems, but Wednesday through the rest of the week the weather was perfect. Unfortunately, with Harvey’s impending arrival in Texas, some delegates ended up heading home early while those trying to return to Houston were forced to find alternate accommodations into the next week.
For the third year in a row, ICSOM delegates have volunteered for a special service event in the host orchestra’s city. This year we partnered with the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra’s program BPO Kids for Exceptional Kids, which is designed to make concerts more accessible and comfortable for kids with autism spectrum disorders, cancer, and other chronic physical or healthcare challenges. Musicians participating this year included violinists: Kimberly Tichenor (Louisville Orchestra), Andy Bruck (Jacksonville Symphony), Laura Ross (Nashville Symphony); violists: Barbara Corbató (Grand Rapids Symphony) and Chris Woehr (St. Louis Symphony Orchestra); French horns: Alex Kienle (Dallas Symphony), Dan Sweeley (Buffalo Philharmonic), Peter de Boor (Kennedy Center Opera House Orchestra), Paul Austin (Grand Rapids Symphony); and narrator, Debbie Brooks (Ft. Worth Symphony). The group performed horn quartets, viola and horn duets, and string arrangements with narration arranged by Chris Woehr. Dan Sweeley, Buffalo Philharmonic’s ICSOM delegate and Member at Large, deserves our thanks for his hard work putting this event and other conference activities together.
Prior to the “official” beginning of the conference on Wednesday morning, we have traditionally held a negotiating workshop on Tuesday evening, which addresses issues negotiating orchestras deal with at the bargaining table. During the past ten+ years that this session has been in existence, many delegates and committee chairs have participated in this session, which is moderated by ICSOM Counsel and the ICSOM President.
This year, more than one-fifth of our delegates were new to ICSOM. These delegates were invited to a new-delegate breakfast before the opening session. This allows the ICSOM Governing Board to meet with the delegates, give them a preview of what to expect during the week, and remind them of their duties—particularly, to keep the lines of communication open so ICSOM can effectively represent and keep its membership informed.
Opening her first conference as ICSOM Chairperson, Meredith Snow’s (Los Angeles Philharmonic) opening address covered issues including the economic impact of our industry on our communities, the Fort Worth and Pittsburgh settlements after extended work stoppages, and her attendance with a group of ICSOM governing board members at the League of American Orchestras (LAO) conference in Detroit (where the discussion centered on diversity) and the International Federation of Musicians’ (FIM) Orchestra Conference in Montreal. Snow also addressed the recent non-union scoring of the film Ben Hur by a signatory label—MGM. She pointed out that as our orchestra committees have become stronger, our orchestras may come to view the AFM or “the union” as a separate entity. But the AFM are not interlopers. Musicians are the union. She said we need to uphold the value of our labor and to stand up for our colleagues. Individual actions matter, and when we work union, then there is more union work. She encouraged ICSOM musicians to reinforce their commitment to their locals and the AFM. ICSOM is here to help assure that everyone thrives.
ICSOM President George Brown (Utah Symphony) spoke about diversity within the entire orchestral organization—not just on stage, but within our administrations and boards as well. He also thanked the Governing Board and Delegates, as he would be stepping down from his position at the end of the conference.
AFM Political Director Alphonso Pollard reported on legislation dealing with Veterans Affairs, the Affordable Care Act, NAFTA, the federal budget, and the tax code. He also highlighted a number of bills that erode labor protection, including National “Right to Work” bills proposed in the House and Senate. The “Fair Play Fair Pay” bill has been reintroduced, and Pollard is working on new legislation dealing with military bands that, in order to justify their existence, have been performing off-base and doing work that was previously performed by civilian groups. He also encouraged delegates and members of their orchestras to join the TEMPO Signature Club; funding helps support various AFM legislative initiatives and candidates in both parties who share the AFM’s point of view.
Symphonic Services Division (SSD) Director Rochelle Skolnick and SSD Negotiator Todd Jelen designed a series of orchestra-workplace scenarios that allowed delegates and Local officers to discover their acting abilities while finding solutions. Results were reviewed by the entire group at the conclusion of the smaller breakouts.
The Mixer at Pearl Street Grill and Brewery provided by our hosts offered excellent music, food, and an unobstructed view of a glorious sunset over Lake Erie. Those who returned to view a screening later in the evening of Composed, a documentary by John Beder, were finally able to see the full result; a twenty-minute preview had been shown at the 2016 conference in Washington DC. The documentary featured information distilled from a recent ICSOM survey and hundreds of hours of interviews with musicians about performance anxiety. ICSOM helped make this documentary a reality, and because of it, John Beder is offering a discount to ICSOM orchestras interested in purchasing a copy for their institutions; information for pre-ordering can be found on the ICSOM website.
On Wednesday, and continuing on Thursday, Delegates heard reports from officers, Players Conference representatives, and those overseeing many of the services provided by ICSOM and the AFM. We welcomed back two ICSOM Emeritus Presidents—AFM Strike Fund Trustees David Angus from the Rochester Philharmonic, and Brian Rood from the Kansas City Symphony. Rood, who is also chair of ICSOM’s Electronic Media Committee, and AFM SSD Electronic Media Director Debbie Newmark presented a number of scenarios and quizzed the Delegates on how the scenarios related to the Integrated Media Agreement (IMA).
Thursday’s sessions continued with a presentation by ICSOM Counsel Kevin Case and David Sywak from the Dallas Symphony, as they explored bargaining various healthcare options. The afternoon session was devoted to the American Federation of Musicians and Employers’ Pension Fund (AFM-EPF) presentation by Ray Hair (Union Trustee Co-Chair), Chris Brockmeyer (Employer Trustee Co-Chair), Will Luebking (AFM-EPF Finance Director), Bob Behar (Actuary for Milliman Inc.), Alan Spatrick (Investment Advisor from Meketa), Rob Projansky (Co-Counsel, Proskauer), Jani Rachelson (Co-Counsel, Cohen Weiss Simon), and Union Trustees Tino Gagliardi, Brian Rood, and Laura Ross. ICSOM’s annual Town Hall, a closed session for Delegates and the Governing Board to discuss issues of importance, was held that evening.
Friday began with elections for Members at Large (MAL) following the election by acclamation on Thursday of ICSOM President Paul Austin (Grand Rapids Symphony) and reelection of ICSOM Secretary Laura Ross (Nashville Symphony). Kimberly Tichenor (Louisville Orchestra) was reelected to a two-year MAL term. Martin Andersen (New Jersey Symphony Orchestra) was elected to a two-year MAL position and Greg Mulligan (Baltimore Symphony) was elected to a one-year MAL position.
ICSOM Counsel Kevin Case moderated a panel of orchestra leaders that examined the dynamics of orchestra relations in a discussion called “Back from the Brink”. Panelists included Louisville Orchestra Committee Chair and MAL Kimberly Tichenor, Detroit Symphony Orchestra Committee member Ken Thompkins, Buffalo Philharmonic and Virginia Symphony Music Director JoAnn Falletta, Jacksonville Symphony President and CEO Robert Massey, and former Director of the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Services Allison Beck. A number of the orchestras represented on the panel dealt with labor strife, work stoppages, or major cutbacks in the past; discussion centered on the methods used by these orchestras to recover from those problems, including re-establishing and improving relations between musicians, staff, and board members. Allison Beck pointed out that open communication, especially prior to negotiations, was key to any successful healing process.
ICSOM provided a luncheon for MALs and their Delegates (each MAL oversees 13 orchestras) to discuss issues of importance. Following lunch, ICSOM Chairperson Meredith Snow moderated a panel discussion examining diversity within our orchestral organizations. Participants included Los Angeles Philharmonic Delegate John Lofton, Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra musician Don Harry, Gateways Music Festival and Oakland Symphony Music Director Michael Morgan, AFM Diversity Committee Chair and Local 65-699 (Houston TX) President Lovie Smith-Wright, and League of American Orchestras (LAO) Board member and New Jersey Symphony Orchestra member Robert Wagner. Phoenix Symphony musician Alex Laing, who is a leader within the LAO diversity initiative, sent a brief video presentation. Detroit Symphony ICSOM Delegate Monica Fosnaugh and her colleague Ken Thompkins spoke about how their orchestra has dealt with diversity on all levels of the institution.
Dan Sweeley organized a runout to Niagara Falls (the American side) for 40+ conference attendees once the conference ended for the day. It was a beautiful evening to ride the Maid of the Mist, walk beneath the American Falls at the Cave of the Winds, have dinner in town or at the Seneca Casino and see the falls lit up at night.
Saturday morning began with a presentation about the Houston Musicians Credit Union instrument loan program. ICSOM’s good friend and public relations consultant from Cypress Media, Randy Whatley, gave tips on how musicians can craft a community relations program. He offered practical ideas and included comments by musicians who had put these ideas into practice in their orchestras. Kevin Case then offered a new and welcome addition to the conference—an open forum for delegates to ask him questions as ICSOM’s Counsel.
As the conference moved into its final hours, Delegates adopted resolutions addressing the AFM-EPF, national “right-to-work” legislation, an online conductor evaluation pilot program, and ICSOM’s response to what occurred in Charlottesville, Virginia. Resolutions were also adopted by unanimous consent honoring Utah Symphony Principal Timpanist George Brown as he stepped down as ICSOM President, and honoring Librarian Paul Gunther, who stepped down as MAL after 11 years following his retirement from the Minnesota Orchestra. During the site selection portion of the conference, it was announced that the Cincinnati Symphony and Local 1 had submitted an offer to host the conference in 2018. (The Cincinnati Symphony was on tour in Europe so was unable to attend the conference this year.) The Utah Symphony and Local 104 offered to host the conference in 2019, and the Milwaukee Symphony and Local 8 submitted an offer to host the conference in 2020.
Many thanks to Dan Sweeley, conference coordinator Travis Hendra, Local 92 President James Pace, and the many BPO volunteers who helped set up and help during the conference. Thanks as well to Virginia Symphony Alternate Delegate Tom Reel, who filled in as assistant conference coordinator at the last minute. Thanks as well to Local 92 and the Buffalo Philharmonic for their generosity and for a really wonderful conference.