Confinement, quarantine, social distancing, furlough, innovation, activism, creativity, inclusion.
These ideas were explored and discussed during this year’s ICSOM Conference. There was no big hotel conference meeting room, no talking face-to-face with colleagues from across the country, or catching up with old friends and meeting new ones for the first time; instead it was a screen with tiles of faces who talked about the issues confronting our orchestras during this time in history.
We had planned to meet at the Wyndham Grand Pittsburgh Downtown hotel. The Pittsburgh Symphony would be preparing for a European tour and departing the day after the conference ended. Delegates and guests would have attended a pre-tour concert at Heinz Hall followed by a reception. Aside from beginning consideration of presentation topics, that is as far as conference planning had progressed by early March. Then on March 12–13, nearly every one of our orchestras’ seasons was halted, initially for a few weeks, then months, and, in one case, for the entire following season.
The Governing Board began scheduling weekly meetings and—as the conference dates drew closer—came to the decision that the health and safety of Delegates, Local and AFM officers, and guests were far more important than hosting an in-person conference. By mid-May a board subcommittee had devised an outline for a three-day online conference that would cover issues currently confronting our musicians and institutions. It would also allow more ICSOM members to attend and discover for themselves some of the things ICSOM provides to our member orchestras other than the most visible manifestations of our organization: a newsletter, a membership directory, and settlement bulletins.
First though, ICSOM’s bylaws had to be amended, because at no time in its 58-year history had anyone contemplated the possibility that an annual conference could not be held in person. To accomplish this, the Governing Board called a special Zoom meeting on June 22, during which Delegates considered an emergency resolution that would grant current and future Governing Boards the ability and flexibility to plan a conference online, should something similar prohibit future in-person ICSOM conferences. The changes, which were overwhelmingly adopted, allow the board flexibility with the agenda, and the ability to move approved conference locations, should it become necessary. Elections were also permitted to be suspended for one year, which meant all two-year terms were extended to three years (the Department of Labor (DOL) limits union terms for bodies like ICSOM to no more than four years before an election is required). An alternate proposal to make temporary changes rather than adding new bylaws was also submitted, but was not addressed due to adoption of the original proposal.
While some Delegates expressed concern about site selection and election changes, the Governing Board and Counsel explained the thought process that led to the proposed amendment. There was a potential $40,000 hotel cancellation fee that could be alleviated by shifting the conference location to 2021; there was limited time to assemble a conference agenda; and union elections held using an online platform such as Election Buddy are still not approved by the DOL because of concerns about the possibility of someone being able to connect the identity of a voter with their vote, and the difficulty of providing candidates the right to observe all phases of the counting and tallying process.
So, with three weeks to prepare an entire conference online, the Board went to work. I immediately opened the conference registration link and requested written reports from Delegates about their orchestra’s status; they were requested to substitute for a delegate’s ability to find out the status of other orchestras. These reports were compiled and were made available, along with other written reports (replacing verbal conference reports), presentation links, and supporting documents, to conference attendees on the ICSOM website through a private link.
Member at Large Keith Carrick was the master of Zoom and hosted all the conference sessions, being ably assisted by fellow MALs Dan Sweeley, Micah Howard, and Greg Mulligan, who also served as moderators/assistants collecting comments and questions for the various presentations. Senza Sordino Editor Peter de Boor helped the many people likely to be unfamiliar with our acronym-filled world, by using the chat feature to identify terms and people during various presentations.
Some presentations incorporated ideas generated at the Town Hall meeting that followed the June 22 Special Meeting, such as a panel of medical professionals to discuss health and safety issues, and an exploration of the ways our musicians are promoting themselves during this time. ICSOM President Paul Austin identified and worked with 12 different orchestras to present this year’s version of Orchestras of Note on the final day of the conference, this time entitled Orchestras of Note and Innovation: Creative Projects by Musicians’ Associations of ICSOM Orchestras during the COVID-19 Pandemic. Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra’s Stephen Laifer addressed their radio broadcast Facebook project; Charlotte Symphony Orchestra’s Bob Rydel introduced the “Charlotte Symphony al fresco” project; San Diego Symphony Orchestra’s P.J. Cinque talked about their “AMA-440” Instagram series; St. Louis Symphony Orchestra’s Amanda Stewart spoke about launching their social media platforms; Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra’s Debbie Brooks talked about their May 6th “thank you” YouTube video; Dallas Symphony Orchestra’s David Matthews gave details about an upcoming “Project Unity: November 11th benefit”; National Symphony Orchestra’s Alex Jacobsen covered their “Friendship Place: June 28th chamber music benefit concert”; Jacksonville Symphony Orchestra’s Anthony Anurca related details about participating in Feeding Northeast Florida; Metropolitan Opera Orchestra’s Javier Gándara spoke about their fundraising campaign #WeWillMetAgain; New York City Ballet Orchestra’s Ian Sullivan introduced their video series “Meet the Musicians of NYCB’s Orchestra”; San Francisco Ballet Orchestra’s Joe Brown talked about their video mini-series “5 Little Questions” and “What’s in my Bag?”; and Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra’s Mike Muszynski outlined their musicians association platform of events and posts, assembled as they prepared for upcoming—now current—bargaining. Both the Zoom presentation and links provided by most of the orchestras are available on the ICSOM website’s 2020 conference page. (Note: See “Orchestras of Note and Innovation” on page 11 for more detail about some of these presentations.)
ICSOM Counsel Kevin Case worked with Larry Rick, a physician assistant and infectious disease specialist who advises Local 47 AFM, Dr. Carlos del Rio, Professor of Global Health & Epidemiology at Emory University and a board member of the Atlanta Symphony, and Dr. Adam T. Schwalje, a resident physician and research fellow in Otolaryngology, a bassoonist, and co-author of “Wind Musicians’ Risk Assessment in the Time of COVID-19”, to present Health and Safety in the Workplace: Our New COVID-19 World. Their discussion and question-and-answer session covered many of the concerns musicians are dealing with right now as we all wait for further information and clarification about how this virus is spread. We are grateful that Mr. Rick and Drs. Del Rio and Schwalje have given their approval so that ICSOM members can view this presentation on the ICSOM website’s 2020 conference page.
ICSOM Chairperson Meredith Snow worked with Anthony McGill, principal clarinet with the New York Philharmonic, and his brother Demarre McGill, principal flute with the Seattle Symphony, to talk about their experiences and recent participation in #taketwoknees on social media, in a presentation entitled Intersection of Music, Race and Activism in our Orchestras. Demarre McGill also outlined ten points he presented to Seattle Symphony management to address diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) within the entire institution. Links to Anthony and Demarre McGill’s #taketwoknees social media posts, YouTube video of a Seattle Arts March by Demarre and his colleagues, and the 10 DEI recommendations are all available on the ICSOM website’s 2020 conference page. (Note: See “Concepts to Further Inclusivity” on page 1.)
AFM-SSD Director Rochelle Skolnick and Symphonic Electronic Media Director Debbie Newmark spoke about how they have been approaching Electronic Media in Today’s Virtual Environment. The two related the yeoman’s work they have been performing since mid-March, working with numerous orchestras—following an agreement with the Employers’ Electronic Media Association (EMA)—to explore how the IMA and these new media terms could be used. Skolnick and Newmark have also worked closely with the ICSOM Electronic Media Committee (EMC), ROPA Committee, AFM President Ray Hair, and Local officers who participated in the previous IMA negotiations during this period. ICSOM’s EMC is chaired by Peter Rofé (Los Angeles Philharmonic), and includes Fiona Simon (New York Philharmonic), Dan Bauch (Boston Symphony), Laura Ross (Nashville Symphony), Paul Frankenfeld (Cincinnati Symphony), Peter de Boor (Kennedy Center Opera House Orchestra), ICSOM Chairperson Meredith Snow (Los Angeles Philharmonic), and ICSOM President Paul Austin (Grand Rapids Symphony), with ICSOM Counsel Kevin Case serving as an advisor; former EMC chair Brian Rood (Kansas City Symphony) also participated in a number of discussions. (Note: See “Electronic Media for a ‘COVID Season’” on page 4.)
Kevin Case gave an important and helpful presentation about Strategic Bargaining for the 2020–21 Season and Beyond. He addressed issues being raised at the bargaining table and in discussions, and suggested approaches to take during those talks, as orchestras explore how to proceed with the upcoming season.
There was an update from the AFM-EPF outlining the cuts proposed by the Trustees in the pending Multiemployer Pension Reform Act (MPRA) application submitted to the Treasury Department on December 30, 2019. This was followed by a presentation by Naomi Frisch, an Associate with Illinois Advocates and ROPA board member, who, along with Kevin Case, discussed Sick Leave Application and the Law in Today’s Environment. This presentation explored how various provisions for leave under less recent federal legislation (such as the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)) have been affected and modified by recent COVID-inspired laws, such as the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act and the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA).
There were addresses throughout the conference by ICSOM Chairperson Meredith Snow, ICSOM President Paul Austin, AFM President Ray Hair, and presidents from the Theater Musicians Association (TMA) – Anthony D’Amico, Recording Musicians Association (RMA) – Marc Sazer, Regional Orchestra Players’ Association (ROPA) – John Michael Smith, and Organization of Canadian Musicians (OCSM/OMOSC) – Robert Fraser.
Snow spoke about the difficulties we are facing and how the virus has cast a harsh light on inequities, especially with regard to our Black and Brown citizens. She urged us to do better and to embrace truth as we confront the issues we are dealing with today. She urged us to rethink our destiny but to also remember that we will come out of this stronger, because we won’t give up and because music is our mission. Austin addressed the ways our institutions have dealt with their musicians, both bad—as exemplified by the treatment of musicians in the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra, Nashville Symphony, and Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra—and good. Austin shared a shining example of the latter in the comments by his own orchestra’s manager, who said, “We will not be taking the easy way out by furloughing musicians.” He also promoted ICSOM’s Phone2Action campaign to support further assistance through the Health and Economic Recovery Omnibus Emergency Solutions (HEROES) Act, currently under consideration by the Senate.
D’Amico spoke about the decimation of the theater industry and the Broadway League’s refusal to continue health benefits or wages, adding that the enhanced unemployment benefit has been a great boon to theater musicians. Sazer pointed out that with orchestra musicians streaming content, we have all become recording musicians. He said the RMA and AFM have continued bargaining national agreements and some session work has begun again. Smith shared how ROPA orchestras dealt with their shutdowns, praised the work being done addressing electronic media use, and encouraged diversity and welcoming all different cultures into our communities. Fraser spoke about the Canadian government’s response to the COVID-19 crisis, the dual employment classification in Canadian orchestras (employee versus independent contractor), and the economic impact on Canadian orchestras.
President Hair commended SSD for their work during the crisis, and empathized with musicians’ desire to reconnect with their colleagues and audiences. He spoke about labor economics in bargaining, the AFM’s role in enabling freelance employees to receive unemployment benefits for the first time, and the anticipated hardball tactics employers are likely to use when negotiations begin. He believes COVID will not lead to a shortage of workers, but of jobs—with more than 50 million currently unemployed workers. He mourned the loss of smaller businesses that have been unable to continue, while huge companies grow bigger. He classified local employers into three categories—those looking to protect the integrity of their institutions and employees by raising and deploying capital, those with little creativity who refuse to take risks or care for their musicians, and “vulture capitalists” who care only about preserving capital and who believe musicians are disposable and replaceable. This last group, he said, believes the administration is the actual institution. He reminded us that unions exist because we needed an organized way to respond to employers; solidarity occurs when an organization is unified, speaking with one voice, and its representatives represent the entire orchestra’s best interests rather than advancing their personal agendas. This is a difficult moment and fear is prevalent, but it won’t stop us; we will adapt and continue to perform and thrive.
Three resolutions were submitted and unanimously adopted—two were submitted by the Governing Board; Milwaukee Symphony Delegate Helen Reich submitted the other resolution, on behalf of her colleague, ICSOM Chairperson Emeritus Robert Levine, with Fort Worth Delegate Debbie Brooks. These resolutions can be found on page 12.
Each conference ends with Good & Welfare and Closing Remarks. These are mine:
Martha Warrington, who designed our ICSOM website, is retiring from the Oregon Symphony, but continues her work with ICSOM gratis. I am so grateful for all her work these past two months, from setting up registration, to building a much more elaborate website for conference information than in previous years, to moving information and posting presentation videos on the website after the conference ended.
Every member of the Governing Board and Counsel stepped up in ways they had never been called to do before. I know that every one of my colleagues is dedicated and focused on trying to do whatever we can for our orchestras and our industry—including continuing weekly meetings, and hosting additional Town Hall and breakout sessions for delegates and others—until we meet at the other end of this crisis.
I offer advice to anyone sending out 350+ emails numerous times during a short period of time—your email address could be marked as spam. After being removed from mailing lists and changing my password halfway through the conference, I share this experience with you. I hope there won’t be future consequences after sending those links every day…
And finally, this conference allowed more than 200 ICSOM members—in addition to the Delegates, Local officers, AFM officers and staff, and presenters, totaling more than 350 registered participants—to attend and view portions of the ICSOM conference that would not have been available to them otherwise. ICSOM serves more than 4,000 members in 52 member orchestras; the annual conference travels from city to city, hosted by member orchestras each summer, in order to bring the conference to our musicians. It is what brought me first to ROPA in 1988 as a host orchestra, and it continues to each year with ICSOM. I hope more of you will attend these conferences, and that we can find new ways to share ICSOM with our entire membership. Maybe we’ll see some of you in Pittsburgh August 11–14, 2021.
Note: the author is ICSOM secretary