A Matter Of Representation

Hot off the heels of the personality vs. process post a few days ago that examined the current conflict between the American Federation of Musicians (AFM) and its player conferences, the International Conference of Symphony and Opera Musicians (ICSOM) went public with a list of objections against the current AFM leadership. The material includes numerous references to the gap between revenue originating from orchestra musicians via work dues (the player conferences) and the services provided by the AFM…

One might wonder whether or not the player conferences are considering a wider range of options outside the boundaries of leveraging political influence.
One might wonder whether or not the player conferences are considering a wider range of options outside the boundaries of leveraging political influence.

These issues were addressed at the latest ICSOM conference from August, 2009 and the members felt strongly enough about going public with their dissatisfaction that they passed a resolution to publish the opening remarks from ICSCOM chair, Bruce Ridge, and president, Brian Rood; both of which detail the complaints against the AFM leadership.

The heart of the player conferences’ complaints appears simple, they want the AFM to provide services that meet their needs and reasonably represent the amount they contribute financially. At the same time, the language in the opening remarks from Ridge and Rood don’t come across as particularly forceful, especially when compared to more traditional political arenas, but that might be a matter of perception.

According to a 9/6/2009 blog post from Robert Levine, ICSOM Chairman Emeritus and current president of the Milwaukee Musicians Association, Local 8 AFM, the culture within ICSOM is such that the remarks from Ridge and Rood are tantamount to fighting words.

“It’s hard to emphasize strongly enough just how unusual it is for ICSOM to make known its dissatisfaction with AFM leadership, and in particular the AFM president, this directly and this publicly. It is not exactly a declaration of war, but it’s not far from that.”

Beyond expressing their dissatisfaction publicly, there is no other word regarding what, if anything, ICSOM or its fellow player conferences will do besides continue to use strong language and jockey for a favorable political solution at the AFM’s upcoming national election. With that election nearly a year away, it seems as though nothing much will change within the AFM unless personalities subside or leaders resign.

If nothing else, this provides ICSOM and the player conferences with time to plan but it also all but guarantees another season of what Ridge characterizes as woefully inadequate support that piles insult on top of injury.

“ICSOM was founded largely to achieve recognition from our union, and that struggle for recognition continues nearly 50 years later. In this time of crisis for orchestras in America, our musicians have never needed the support of the [AFM] more, and I am saddened to say that they have never had it less.”

Of course, the AFM’s leadership may not change after next summer’s election or new leadership may not be much different than what is currently in place. On the flip side, the player conferences may be successful in installing a leader sympathetic to their positions. Regardless, one might wonder whether or not the player conferences are considering a wider range of options outside the boundaries of leveraging political influence.

Nonetheless, the actions implemented by ICSOM and the other player conferences will certainly impact this field in one way or another. As such, it is worth keeping your eye on developments.

About Drew McManus

"I hear that every time you show up to work with an orchestra, people get fired." Those were the first words out of an executive's mouth after her board chair introduced us. That executive is now a dear colleague and friend but the day that consulting contract began with her orchestra, she was convinced I was a hatchet-man brought in by the board to clean house.

I understand where the trepidation comes from as a great deal of my consulting and technology provider work for arts organizations involves due diligence, separating fact from fiction, interpreting spin, as well as performance review and oversight. So yes, sometimes that work results in one or two individuals "aggressively embracing career change" but far more often than not, it reinforces and clarifies exactly what works and why.

In short, it doesn't matter if you know where all the bodies are buried if you can't keep your own clients out of the ground, and I'm fortunate enough to say that for more than 15 years, I've done exactly that for groups of all budget size from Qatar to Kathmandu.

For fun, I write a daily blog about the orchestra business, provide a platform for arts insiders to speak their mind, keep track of what people in this business get paid, help write a satirical cartoon about orchestra life, hack the arts, and love a good coffee drink.

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