It took a year longer than originally anticipated, but the 59th annual ICSOM Conference was finally hosted by the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra (PSO) August 11 through 14, 2021 at the Wyndham Grand Pittsburgh Downtown hotel. Our hosts: ICSOM Member at Large Micah Howard, Conference Coordinator Bronwyn Banerdt, ICSOM Delegate Charlie Powers, PSO’s 412 Food Rescue Coordinator Lorien Benet Hart, Local 60-471 President George Clewer, and the many PSO musicians, were so welcoming and made our travels to Pittsburgh worth the effort.
Due to the rise in COVID-19 outbreaks, our plans for the conference were in a constant state of flux. The Governing Board felt it was very important to hold the conference for as many as would feel comfortable attending in person, but also made the decision one week prior to the conference to require proof of vaccination, and that masks and social distancing would be required during sessions.
A special 412 Food Rescue volunteer event was scheduled on Tuesday before the conference began. Normally, a truck filled with food would be followed by musicians who would help deliver the food and provide music during each stop. This event was smaller, but it gave our volunteers the opportunity to spend quality time with their assigned PSO musicians as each car drove to its single drop-off location. Our thanks to PSO’s Lorien Benet Hart for arranging this special volunteer event for our ICSOM Delegates and guests, and thanks to all the PSO musicians who took time out of their schedules to join us and show us around town.
On Wednesday the New Delegate Breakfast orientation was the first opportunity for our new Delegates and Alternate Delegates to get a sneak peek into the upcoming conference, to meet Governing Board members and Counsel, and share a little bit about themselves before the conference began in earnest.
Last year’s conference was held completely online on Zoom. This year, thanks to a great deal of preparation, ICSOM Member at Large Keith Carrick (Utah Symphony) helped ICSOM hold its very first hybrid conference. Just under half our ICSOM Delegates and/or Alternate Delegates joined us via Zoom and were able to participate in Q&A portions of presentations and Town Hall meetings that are limited to the Governing Board, Delegates and Alternate Delegates only. Initial Governing Board discussions about future conferences included the possibility that some sessions should be live-streamed online and posted online if the presenter permits. They also believe that having Delegates attending in-person together is the best way to accomplish one of the main objectives of the annual conference, which is to foster open discussion about what our orchestras are dealing with and to share ideas and stories that can be taken back to our own constituents.
The morning session began with welcome remarks, Officer addresses and reports, and remarks by PSO President & CEO Melia Tourangeau and Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald. After a yearlong delay, ICSOM also welcomed its 53rd member orchestra when Delegates voted to approve the Pacific Symphony’s application for membership to ICSOM.
Afternoon sessions began with AFM President Ray Hair’s address to the conference and a DEI presentation via Zoom by Jessica Schmidt of Orchestrate Inclusion entitled Taking Action as Orchestra Musicians: Our Collective Power to Create Inclusion and Equity.
Orchestra Projects of Note, curated by Paul Austin, followed with ICSOM Delegates Brad Whitfield discussing the Alabama Symphony’s social media platform, Miles Maner showcasing various episodes of the Chicago Symphony Musicians’ “Beyond the Practice Room”, Doug Rosenthal from the Kennedy Center Opera House Orchestra Musicians, and Amy Hess (joining via Zoom due to weather issues) representing the Musicians of the Chicago Lyric Opera Orchestra explained “How to stay in the public eye during a dark year” as pit orchestra musicians.
Miguel Rivera and his colleague José Manuel Villegas Rivera (who serve as Local 555 President and Secretary-Treasurer, respectively) finished the session discussing the Puerto Rico Symphony Musicians’ Facebook Live event “Save the Symphony” that featured video of ICSOM Chairperson Meredith Snow, ICSOM President Paul Austin (Grand Rapids Symphony), and former ICSOM Chair Bruce Ridge (North Carolina Symphony).
The Mixer, hosted that evening by Local 60-471 and Musicians of the Pittsburgh Symphony, featured entertainment by President George Clewer’s band the Pittsburgh Hard Bop Sextet, Pittsburgh-centric foods, and a spectacular view of Point Park at the confluence where the Allegheny and Monongahela form the “mighty” Ohio River.
Beginning on Thursday we were able to see our online Delegates briefly during roll call. Following brief reports and Players’ Conferences Council addresses in-person by ROPA President Mike Smith, and via Zoom by OCSM/OMOSC President Bob Fraser, RMA President Marc Sazer, and former TMA President Tony D’Amico, we heard two presentations about reading financial documents. The first, by local CPA Paul E. Block entitled Finance 101: Interpreting Standard Financial Statements covered various financial documents and accounting practices used in budgeting documents. In the afternoon, Bob Zagozda offered a Financial Review: Interpreting Audits and Spotting Red Flags and discussed audit notes and items of concern to look for in annual audited financial documents and 990 forms. The rest of the day and evening were dedicated to orchestra breakout groups by budget size and the first of two Town Hall meetings.
ICSOM Counsel Kevin Case spent much of Friday morning speaking about Variants & Vaccinations: Bargaining in a Time of Uncertainty that included an interview with Dr. Adam Schwalje (via Zoom), who joined the ICSOM conference last summer to discuss the COVID-19 pandemic. They discussed further concerns and safety measures as orchestras return to the stage. Case also discussed vaccine mandates. Following the traditional Member at Large/Delegate luncheon, the afternoon included a presentation by Rochelle Skolnick and Debbie Newmark from AFM Symphonic Services Division about the AFM COVID-19 Side Letter to the Integrated Media Agreement (IMA), and a second Town Hall meeting.
Unfortunately, weather was uncooperative much of the week and the Friday evening outdoor PSO concert was rained out. Although the concert was cancelled, some of the musicians on the bus were treated to a lovely evening view of downtown Pittsburgh from Mount Washington.
On Saturday morning American Federation of Musicians and Employers’ Pension Fund (AFM-EPF) Union Trustees Laura Ross (ICSOM Secretary/Nashville Symphony) and Martha Hyde (AFM-EPF’s newest rank and file Trustee) were joined by ICSOM President Emeritus Brian Rood (Kansas City Symphony) via Zoom along with Co-Counsel Zachary Leeds to speak about the Pension Fund and how the new pension relief legislation in the American Rescue Plan Act is anticipated to maintain benefit levels.
The delegates passed a change to the ICSOM bylaws, sponsored by the Governing Board, who had received feedback that individual orchestra committee members were uncomfortable being required to personally guarantee ERF loans, as had been the previous practice. The bylaw change provides that instead of requiring personal loan guarantees, an orchestra that defaults on an ERF loan would be considered withdrawn from membership in ICSOM.
Two resolutions recommended resisting extending Electronic Media Guarantee (EMG) salary carve outs and supporting revising AFM Bylaws with regard to how AFM Strike Funds may be distributed; two other resolutions honored the passing of important orchestra leaders–Chris Durham and Paul Ganson; and there were resolutions thanking the outgoing Members at Large,Micah Howard and Greg Mulligan (Baltimore Symphony), for their service as they stepped down. A final resolution honored Michael Moore (Atlanta Symphony), who stepped down after 19 years as ICSOM Treasurer following 11 years as Member at Large.
This was a conference of transitions–while Meredith Snow (Los Angeles Philharmonic) was re-elected Chairperson for another two-year term, Peter de Boor (Kennedy Center Opera House Orchestra) stepped down as Senza Sordino Editor and was then elected to the position of Treasurer; Mike Muszynski (Indianapolis Symphony) was elected Senza Sordino Editor. Dan Sweeley (Buffalo Philharmonic) and Alberto Suarez (Kansas City Symphony) were elected to two-year terms as Members at Large, while Kenneth Thompkins (Detroit Symphony) was elected to a one-year term as Member at Large; Sweeley was also elected 3rd Delegate to the AFM Convention in 2022.
As we prepare to celebrate our 60th anniversary next summer in Grand Rapids MI, we look forward to welcoming everyone to the Embassy Suites Grand Rapids Downtown August 24-27, 2022.