As we come to the close of the first month of the Biden administration, tangible change is already evident. The desperately needed $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan is underway and Biden has quickly made good on his vow to be a “pro-union” president. Within hours of taking office he fired Peter Robb, general counsel of the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) and friend to managements everywhere. Biden immediately signed executive orders undoing swaths of the destruction left behind by the Trump administration. He has made COVID vaccines and federal assistance for the pandemic a priority. The landscape is rapidly changing.
So rapidly in fact, that we had to quickly mobilize to advocate for our AFM multi-employer pension. As Representative Richard Neal (D-MA), Chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, introduced the Emergency Pension Plan Relief Act of 2021 (EPPRA), ICSOM immediately launched another Phone2Action (P2A) email campaign in support of EPPRA, as its inclusion in Biden’s COVID relief package started to become a reality. The ICSOM campaign generated almost 1800 letters to legislators and 45% of those respondents were new advocates to ICSOM.
The Player Conferences Council (John Michael Smith, ROPA; Marc Sazer, RMA; Anthony D’Amico, TMA; minus Robert Fraser, President of OCSM, as Canada has its own pension plan) sprang into action along with AFM organizers Michael Manley and Alex Tindal Wiesendanger, Communications Director Antoinette Follett, and AFM Legislative-Political Director Alfonso Pollard. Adding to the email campaign already disseminated by President Ray Hair, we formulated a “Zoom-banking” operation—asking volunteer musicians to phone constituent musicians in the targeted districts of the House Ways & Means Committee, to encourage them to ask their Representatives to vote in favor of what has come to be called the Butch Lewis/EPPRA-21 Act. Over three days, eighty-five volunteers (on Zoom together) generated 1000 calls to constituent musicians asking them to call their Representatives on House Ways & Means. As of this writing, Butch Lewis/EPPRA-21 is included in the reconciliation bill, and should reach the Senate by early March. The Biden administration is racing the clock to beat the mid-March expiration of the enhanced unemployment benefits.
Our next phase of the campaign will be to target Senators. In addition to another round of “Zoom-banking”, we are teaming up with AFM Local Presidents and musicians from all our Player Conferences to schedule Zoom meetings with their Senators and ask them to support Butch Lewis/EPPRA in Biden’s Rescue Plan. Rep. Neal said in a statement, “I’m committed to getting a solution to this (pension) crisis signed into law as quickly as possible.” ICSOM and the AFM will do everything we can to help him realize that ambition.
After many months of discussions, the National Alliance for Audition Support has released the NAAS Recommended Audition and Tenure Guidelines. A committee of 15 members (orchestra administrators, AFM representatives, AFM musicians, music directors, and personnel managers) crafted these suggested guidelines—all subject to collective bargaining—with the objective of increasing diversity through our audition process. My hope, and that of the other committee members, is that these suggestions will spur examination and discussion of our current audition procedures. There is no “one size fits all” archetype for audition procedures just as there is no single business model for our orchestras. With a mutual understanding that there is both a need and a desire to attain greater diversity and inclusion at all levels of our orchestral associations—board, management, music director, musician, donors, patrons, and guest artists—it is hoped that these suggested guidelines will move us closer to the goal of equal representation onstage.
It is important to keep in mind that these recommended guidelines were crafted, not solely for ICSOM orchestras, but for the 100 NAAS partner orchestras of every budget size. These, in brief, are the recommendations:
1) Consider granting all applicants a live audition—no screening of resumes.
Budget and time constraints may make this impossible to implement, but what creative solutions might be available to us? Split prelim committees, taped submissions, redacted paper resumes all come to mind.
2) Recruit applicants of color and (4) in cases of automatic advancement or invitation to later rounds try to include a percentage (25%) of Black and Brown musicians into those rounds.
Since many orchestras already invite candidates to later rounds for a variety of reasons, this would mean examining the criteria we use to determine which musicians get invited or advanced.
3) Fully screened auditions from first through last rounds.
In 2018 ICSOM passed a resolution encouraging all orchestras to adopt an audition process that retains screens throughout every individual round of auditions.
5) “No hire” auditions are an expense and frustration to all parties. Strongly encourage that a decision will be made to hire by the end of that audition process.
This is a more subjective ask—location, turnout, and timing of the audition will all influence what is possible. Additionally, in some groups, a practice has developed (intentionally or unintentionally) of holding multiple no-hire auditions until the absolute perfect candidate is found. Beginning the auditions process with the consensus and intention of making a decision to hire may be desirable.
6) Consider if the use of “trial weeks” inappropriately places candidates in the untenable position of having to “fit in” and meet unknown expectations. Information gleaned during trial weeks could be obtained through the audition process or during the probationary period.
The use of trial weeks has burgeoned in recent years. It is worth examining the criteria used for implementation in addition to the effectiveness of outcomes.
7) In addition to musical excellence, a musician’s ability to serve as a cultural ambassador or spokesperson may be of value to orchestras. Where an orchestra’s bargaining partners (musicians/union and management) agree that such additional skills are desirable in new musician hires, the parties will need to develop and agree upon ways of evaluating applicants in addition to the blind audition. A consultant with expertise in equity and diversity may be helpful to the bargaining parties in developing specific methods and processes for extra-musical evaluation, as may the involvement of diverse musicians and community leaders.
This is both an ideological and practical discussion that puts into question the very heart of our job definition. While we have expanded our duties in recent years to include extra-musical activities, they have been voluntarily undertaken and are not part of the decision-making process in hiring. There may be orchestras who would want to explore this concept—again, these are suggested guidelines for discussion and exploration. They are not directives, nor are they aimed solely at ICSOM orchestras. The answer for some may simply be “no”.
The tenure review guidelines are only four in number, all of which are suggestions to facilitate a clear and transparent process of constructive feedback for the tenure candidate in the interest of assisting a positive outcome for everyone.
After this past year’s revelations of the racial inequities that exist in our society, I hope we are ready to begin the discussion of how those inequities may manifest within our own orchestras. These guidelines are intended to be a starting point for exploring how our audition processes might help to promote the inclusion and equity that we both need and desire on our stages.
Note: The complete guidelines are available here.
The author is ICSOM Chairperson.