Tom Hall’s ICSOM: Fifty Years of the International Conference of Symphony and Opera Musicians begins with the following:
“On May 12 and 13, 1962, a ‘Symposium of Symphony Orchestra Delegates’ was held in Chicago. The meeting was called in preparation for a symposium of orchestra representatives and local union officials to be convened at the invitation of the American Federation of Musicians in June. Orchestras had found a similar AFM symposium in New York in July 1960 unproductive and wanted to present a unified point of view at the upcoming meeting in June. Although the June meeting was canceled prior to the May symposium (and later rescheduled for October), these musicians still felt the need to meet and address problems in common. Of 26 major orchestras invited, 12 orchestras were represented: Boston, Chicago, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Indianapolis, Los Angeles, Metropolitan Opera, New York, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Saint Louis, and Toronto. Joseph Golan of the Chicago Symphony was the acting chairman; Wayne Barrington served as acting secretary.”
An additional set of meetings was scheduled September 6–8, 1962, in Cleveland, Ohio when representatives from 15 orchestras formally established the International Conference of Symphony and Opera Musicians, with George Zazofsky of the Boston Symphony elected chairman. The representatives to this ICSOM Conference adopted a purpose that included promoting a better livelihood for the skilled performer as well as working cooperatively within the framework of the AFM. They discussed and adopted resolutions calling for the establishment of an AFM symphony/opera/ballet department. In addition, they made a formal request that the AFM International Executive Board (IEB) address issues of “local autonomy” where orchestras were regularly prohibited from participating in negotiating their own agreements or raising funds to assist players, and where Locals refused to recognize elected orchestra committees or to allow musicians to ratify their own contracts. In Cleveland, Local 4 actually negotiated a secret contract, which management and the board approved, despite being overwhelmingly rejected by the orchestra musicians. Local 4 then filed charges against 16 musicians active on committees and withdrew recognition of the orchestra committee.
How far we’ve come!
This year, ICSOM celebrated its 60th anniversary hosted by Musicians of the Grand Rapids Symphony and Local 56, from August 24–27, 2022, at the Embassy Suites by Hilton/Downtown Grand Rapids, Michigan. While a handful of attendees viewed the conference via Zoom, and a few Delegates were on tour, most Delegates attended the conference in person. ICSOM President Paul Austin, Delegate Barb Corbató, Conference Coordinator Jack Latta, and their Grand Rapids Symphony colleagues along with Local 56 President Bennie Keys pulled out all the stops to help ICSOM hold a very successful conference.
Since 2004, the ICSOM Conference has included a breakfast for new Delegates and Alternate Delegates, which offers an opportunity to get to know each other, meet the Governing Board in a more intimate setting, and to hear a little about what they will be participating in during the next four days. This year, the breakfast also included brief comments from board members and from Laurence Hofmann, who maintains the AFM Wage Charts.
The conference officially began with an introduction of the Governing Board, the roll call of orchestras, and welcoming remarks from our local hosts and dignitaries, including Grand Rapids Mayor Rosalynn Bliss and Grand Rapids Symphony President and CEO Mary Tuuk Kuras. In ICSOM Chairperson Meredith Snow’s address, she wondered whether ICSOM’s founders envisioned a membership that would triple in 60 years. She also commented on ICSOM’s work to increase diversity, as well as the horrendous actions by the Symphony Society of San Antonio to file for Chapter 7 (liquidation) bankruptcy. She reminded delegates that—while our orchestra institutions try to remain nonpolitical—we musicians are members of a labor union who can step up and speak out. Snow urged delegates to take the opportunity to talk about what ICSOM can do to assist in making our country better together.
ICSOM President Paul Austin covered his visit with former ICSOM Chair Bruce Ridge to the Puerto Rico Symphony; ICSOM’s Call to Action for the San Antonio Symphony, the only orchestra not returning to work this season, which raised over $250,000 for SAS musicians; and negotiating orchestra Zoom calls that have assisted numerous ICSOM orchestras bargaining this year, while noting that many settlements have been progressive. Austin also covered other activities he has overseen the past season, including working with the DEI Committee to launch a series of DEI video interviews, and closed with the sentiment that ICSOM has facilitated conversations by delegates for 60 years, and this will continue for years to come.
Wednesday afternoon included two panels. The first was another installment of Orchestra Projects of Note, moderated by Paul Austin, that included presentations by various delegates and alternates. Delegate Dan Sweeley outlined the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra’s “A Concert for Healing,” held to offer support to the East Side community that lost 10 of their neighbors following the horrific mass shooting on May 14, 2022. Alternate Delegate Karl Fenner discussed the Atlanta Symphony’s work with the Atlanta Symphony Youth Orchestra that has produced yearly Appreciation Concerts. Delegate Warren Powell spoke about The Florida Orchestra’s “Ahmed Alabaca Commission” entitled “Ode to Liberty.” Delegate Greg Mulligan talked about the Baltimore Symphony’s “Help for Ukraine” concert that raised more than $40,000 in relief funds. Finally, Delegate Helen Reich spoke about the transformation of the former Warner movie palace to the Bradley Center, the Milwaukee Symphony’s new concert hall.
The second panel, assembled by Cypress Media Group President Randy Whatley, included Brad Whitfield (Alabama Symphony), Amy Hess (Chicago Lyric Opera Orchestra), Mike Muszynski (Indianapolis Symphony), Doug Rosenthal (Kennedy Center Opera House Orchestra), and Ruth Lane (San Francisco Opera Orchestra). The five musicians shared details in a panel entitled “Re-engaging your Orchestra in a Post-Pandemic World” that touched on the ways each orchestra used social media during COVID, as well as how they are engaging with their communities.
The final presentation of the day was by yelley Taylor, a violinist and violist from the Bay Area, who shared their story and posed a series of questions and observations based on conversations with approximately 20 to 30 Black and Latinx musicians and composers to provoke conversation and questions, breaking the room into smaller groups to discuss. Taylor’s presentation drew attention to thinking about intention when conversing with others, to being more thoughtful, and to understanding how to look for solutions and clarity to build trust and accountability.
The delightful Mixer that evening was held at the Downtown Market, with entertainment by a trio including Local 56 President Bennie Keys. Food, decor, and a wonderful evening were partially underwritten by Experience GR.
Thursday morning began with a series of reports, followed by presentations from Player Conference leaders—ROPA’s newly elected President Steve Wade, and OCSM President Bob Fraser and TMA President Heather Boehm via Zoom. RMA President Marc Sazer graciously agreed to speak on Friday morning due to timing issues.
AFM President Ray Hair addressed attendees about convergence and disruption in electronic media, exploring the history and development of various AFM bargaining agreements over the decades. Streaming has become particularly important, and the AFM continues to work for passage of the American Music Fairness Act that would cover terrestrial broadcasts—as opposed to digital broadcasts that currently do produce an income stream to musicians—which also impacts revenues collected overseas on behalf of US musicians but, without reciprocal distribution agreements with other countries, is not distributed.
Following lunch, SSD Director Rochelle Skolnick gave presentations about union density in collective bargaining units and bargaining in a post-Dobbs environment, offering ideas and discussion points following the Supreme Court decision to limit women’s personal reproductive rights. SSD Symphonic Electronic Media Director Debbie Newmark introduced a new Local Players Association Promotional Agreement that the ICSOM Governing Board had requested during the past few years.
The day ended in breakout sessions with groups divided by budget size, along with a pit orchestra group; after dinner, the first of two Town Hall meetings was held. These are closed to all but the ICSOM Governing Board and ICSOM Delegates and Alternate Delegates attending the conference.
On Friday, San Antonio Symphony Delegate Riely Francis revealed the new name and logo for the San Antonio Philharmonic, the successor organization started by the Musicians of the San Antonio Symphony following a year-long strike and decision by the Symphony Society of San Antonio to end this storied orchestra by filing for Chapter 7 bankruptcy. Francis explained that the new orchestra is already in the planning stages and has a number of concerts lined up with more than two-thirds of the original orchestra taking part.
ICSOM Counsel Kevin Case’s presentation “‘Shut Up and Fiddle’: Political Expression in a Polarized America” explored various ways social media postings may or may not raise concerns by an individual’s employer, and what, if any, legal issues could arise from those postings.
Following the Member at Large luncheons with their constituent orchestras, ICSOM welcomed Federal Mediation and Conciliation Services (FMCS) Deputy Director of Field Operations Javier Ramirez. Kevin Case posed a series of questions to Director Ramirez, with special emphasis on how mediations are handled and what occurs during these meetings. This was followed by a second, Delegates-only Town Hall Meeting, at which point Local officers and SSD staff met separately.
At the beginning of the free evening, a number of outside activities had been arranged by Grand Rapids Symphony musicians: a visit to the Meyer May House designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, a hike from Saugatuck Dunes State Park on Lake Michigan, a walking tour along the Grand River highlighting African American history and figures, and a beer tour following a prescribed route to various pubs and bars in “Beer City USA.”
On Saturday morning, prior to the final session of meetings, a contingent of Delegates participated in a volunteer activity that has become an annual event, this year consisting of a performance at St. Mark’s Breakfast Café for homeless individuals. The large group consisted of a variety of ensemble performances by Albert Suarez (Kansas City Symphony), Paul Austin and Barb Corbató (Grand Rapids Symphony), Peter de Boor and Doug Rosenthal (Kennedy Center Opera House Orchestra), Jonathan Mueller (Louisville Orchestra), Greg Mulligan (Baltimore Symphony), Laura Ross and Mindy Whitley (Nashville Symphony), Ted Nelson (Cincinnati Symphony), Mike Muszynski (Indianapolis Symphony), Brian Magnus (Jacksonville Symphony), Debbie Brooks (Fort Worth Symphony), P.J. Cinque (San Diego Symphony), Riely Francis (San Antonio Symphony), and Local 7 President Ed Valasquez.
As the sessions resumed, a presentation about the American Federation of Musicians and Employers’ Pension Fund by Union Trustees Brian Rood and Laura Ross was followed by an hour of Q&A with ICSOM Counsel Kevin Case.
Thanks to resolutions submitted by Delegates and the Governing Board, 10 resolutions were adopted at this year’s conference. They included resolutions remembering AFM EMSD Director Patrick Varriale and former ICSOM Secretary Nancy Page Griffin who both died this past year, condemning the actions of the Symphony Society of San Antonio, offering support for the new San Antonio Philharmonic, honoring ROPA President Mike Smith who recently stepped down, dealing with issues regarding ticket sales, offering support for Ukraine, encouraging establishment of a single-payer healthcare system, further supporting the efforts of the Black Orchestral Network, and condemning the Supreme Court decision on Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization.
With all incumbent officers running for re-election, President Paul Austin was elected to a third term, Laura Ross was re-elected to begin her 21st season as Secretary, and Keith Carrick (Utah Symphony) and Ken Thompkins (Detroit Symphony) were both re-elected to two-year terms as Members at Large.
Next year, the Conference will be hosted by the Milwaukee Symphony musicians and Local 8 in August 2023.