The musicians of the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra (MSO) and the Milwaukee Musicians’ Association (AFM Local 8) hosted the 61st annual ICSOM conference at the Hyatt Regency Milwaukee August 23–26, 2023. The tradition of holding a community event prior to the opening of the conference continued this year as a small ensemble of ICSOM officers and delegates performed for an appreciative group at the Down Syndrome Association of Wisconsin. Music therapists Amanda Grettie Koch and Nancy Dexter-Schabow led the orchestra in arrangements of popular pieces while encouraging the teens to participate in various ways. Participating musicians included violinists Laura Ross (Nashville Symphony) and Kimberly Tichenor (Louisville Orchestra), violists Meredith Snow (Los Angeles Philharmonic) and Helen Reich (Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra), cellist Bradley Mansell (Nashville Symphony), horn players Paul Austin (Grand Rapids Symphony) and Peter de Boor (Kennedy Center Opera House Orchestra), with Debbie Brooks (cellist, Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra) playing a shaker. To view photos of many of the week’s activities, visit the gallery at the Conferences section of icsom.org.
For twenty years ICSOM has hosted a new delegate breakfast to give new and alternate delegates the opportunity to meet their colleagues and the governing board and to get a peek at what to expect during their first conference. Conference attendees discuss a great deal of information over three-and-a-half days, so this icebreaker helps prepare new delegates for the work they do on behalf of their orchestras.
The conference began with the roll call of orchestra delegates; introduction of attending AFM officers and staff, local officers, and guest musicians; and welcome remarks by conference host musicians and the local and orchestra administration. This year MSO musicians Helen Reich (who serves as MSO ICSOM delegate), Assistant Principal trombonist Kirk Ferguson (who served as conference coordinator), as well as Principal Violist and Local 8 President (and ICSOM Chairperson Emeritus) Robert Levine welcomed attendees; MSO President and CEO Mark Neihaus, a former MSO musician himself, also welcomed everyone to Milwaukee.
In her address to the conference, ICSOM Chairperson Meredith Snow reviewed the current state of the orchestra industry post-COVID. She reflected on successes and struggles regarding the inclusion of musicians of color in our orchestras and touched on a few of the changes orchestras have been making to their audition processes. Snow encouraged musicians to work with their colleagues at home to recognize and understand their own implicit biases. Stepping down after seven years as ICSOM chairperson, she finished by noting positive changes in our orchestras, but added that there is still a great deal more to do.
ICSOM President Paul Austin included photos during his address of the orchestra site visits he attended during the past season. ICSOM Secretary Laura Ross, Treasurer Peter de Boor, and Editor Mike Muszynski (Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra) also presented abbreviated reports as all ICSOM officers submit written reports before each conference. Early in the conference, delegates accept these reports and the minutes from the previous conference (which can both be accessed at icsom.org after logging in). ICSOM Nominating Committee Chair Bradley Mansell announced a list of candidates for the offices of chairperson, treasurer, editor, and member-at-large, and nominations remained open through Thursday afternoon for elections beginning Friday morning.
Milwaukee Area Labor Council President Pam Fendt invited attendees to attend a protest rally a few blocks away from the hotel during the first Republican debate that evening. Newly elected AFM International President Tino Gagliardi, who took office at the beginning of August, introduced other International officers and executive board members in attendance, offered some brief remarks, and outlined some of the major national negotiations he will lead that begin in the next few months. There were also presentations by Caen Thomason-Redus, vice president of inclusion and learning at the League of American Orchestras (LAO), about a new project, Inclusive Stages, that is being established to gather more information on racial diversity in American orchestras, and from current LAO Board Chairman Doug Hagerman, who is also a former MSO board chair.
Some members did attend the Republican debate protest rally that evening, joining conference attendees afterward at the mixer that was held at the MSO’s beautifully refurbished hall, the Bradley Symphony Center. Guests met in the atrium for food and beverages and were treated to tours of the facility by MSO members as well as by MSO President Mark Niehaus.
Thursday morning began with a report about the 102nd AFM Convention by ICSOM Member-at-Large Dan Sweeley (Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra and ICSOM’s third delegate to the AFM Convention). He explained that the convention had been delayed by a year due to COVID and outlined the process that led to the successful adoption by AFM convention delegates of ICSOM’s Resolution No. 1, which was supported by delegates and by many of their locals. This change now empowers AFM Strike Fund trustees to offer benefit payments when an orchestra furloughs musicians in force-majeure-like situations—a necessary change as the previous bylaws authorized benefits only for strikes and lockouts. Next came speeches by Player Conferences Council leaders of the Organization of Canadian Orchestra Musicians (President Robert Fraser), the Recording Musicians Association (Los Angeles Chapter Secretary Trevor Handy), the Regional Orchestra Players Association (President Steve Wade), and the Theater Musicians Association (President Heather Boehm).
Ken Shirk, newly-elected AFM international secretary-treasurer, gave a presentation that compared corporate and AFM structure and how decision-making and funding models differ. Debbie Newmark, AFM’s director of symphonic electronic media, gave a brief Integrated Media Agreement (IMA) status report after Symphonic Services Division (SSD) Director Rochelle Skolnick’s presentation had to be postponed. ICSOM Counsel Kevin Case’s timely presentation explored various fellowship models along with the Supreme Court’s recent affirmative action decision. Afterward, breakout groups included a DEI Roundtable discussion with Jessica Schmidt of Orchestrate Inclusion, IMA Basics with Debbie Newmark, and Building Cohesive Colleagues with Paul Austin and Keith Carrick (Utah Symphony). The evening was reserved for the first of two town hall meetings between delegates, alternate delegates, and the ICSOM governing board.
Friday morning began with elections: Keith Carrick was elected as ICSOM’s new chairperson, Peter de Boor was reelected treasurer, and Mike Muszynski was reelected editor of Senza Sordino. All four member-at-large positions were open, due to departures by Alberto Suarez (Kansas City Symphony), Kenneth Thompkins (Detroit Symphony Orchestra), and Dan Sweeley—who decided to step down after seven years—as well as the continuation of Keith Carrick’s unfinished term. Ultimately, Nicole Jordan (Philadelphia Orchestra) and Kimberly Tichenor (Louisville Orchestra) were elected to two-year terms, while Jessica Phillips (Metropolitan Opera Orchestra) and Robert Schumitzky (Pacific Symphony) were elected to one-year terms.
In a featured presentation moderated by Kevin Case and facilitated by Jessica Schmidt, three panelists represented various points of view in the tenure process: the musician—John Lofton (Los Angeles Philharmonic); the administration—MSO Director of Operations Terrell Pierce; and the music director—Detroit Symphony Music Director Laureate Leonard Slatkin. Following a delegate luncheon of orchestras grouped by budget size, Jessica Schmidt presented important information and insights about implicit bias in the orchestral workplace. Afterward, a second delegate town hall was held concurrently with a meeting between SSD staff and local officers. The evening was free, but delegates participated in organized activities, including a cruise on the Milwaukee River into Lake Michigan, a visit to the Grohmann Museum—a museum dedicated to artwork celebrating the nature of work—and a Milwaukee Brewers game against the San Diego Padres.
Unfortunately, a handful of delegates tested positive for COVID during the conference, so Saturday’s business was consolidated. AFM SSD Director Rochelle Skolnick’s presentation When Employers Behave Badly: Using NLRB Processes to Protect Musicians’ Rights is set to be presented virtually in November, and delegates swiftly completed member-at-large elections, the selection of future conference sites, the passage of three ICSOM bylaw changes (one still requires ratification by ICSOM membership this fall), and the adoption of a number of resolutions, which are published in this issue of Senza Sordino.
Despite being surrounded by Republican debate participants and supporters and five rounds of election voting, ICSOM conducted a very productive and successful conference filled with excellent questions and discussions. ICSOM has a newly elected and engaged governing board, and now delegates have returned home with ideas and information to share with their orchestras.
The 2024 ICSOM conference will be held in Portland, Oregon and will be hosted by the musicians of the Oregon Symphony and the Musicians Union Local 99.