Leave The AFM? “I Don’t Think So”

At least, that’s what Robert Levine writes in response to the AFM poll results here from earlier this month (here and here) at his blog The AFM Observer. In addition to stating his own position, Levine hypothesizes “The real answer that most orchestra musicians would give to a question like ‘do you think you and your colleagues should leave the AFM,’ if given a realistic list of potential costs and benefits, would be ‘it depends.'”…

Where do you think YOU'RE going?

Levine, who is currently President of AFM Local 8 and principal violist of the Milwaukee Symphony along with holding titles like chairman emeritus of ICSOM (International Conference of Symphony and Opera Musicians) and former editor of that organization’s newsletter Senza Sordino, has certainly been around that part of the business. And I certainly agree that drilling down into that type of additional detail is worthwhile but whether or not that’s an appropriate starting point is arguable.

Providing a reliable list of realistic potential costs and benefits would be a sizeable task and it makes sense to figure out whether or not the effort is worth the trouble by constructing a less complex introductory set of questions. Consequently, those results would dictate whether or not additional effort and exploration is needed.

Levine also presented a few questions about the survey which I’m happy to answer:

Online polls are entertaining. But, as polls, they tend to suffer from inherent methodological issues, chief amongst them that the respondees are 1) self-selected; and 2) not necessarily unique individuals. Thus the results can easily be stacked by someone from outside who is determined to do so.

I didn’t take Drew’s poll, so I can’t testify about its robustness in the face of these two issues.

The poll asked respondents to select up to three responses from the following list:

  1. Orchestra musicians should REMAIN in the AFM and accept whatever decisions their elected leaders make.
  2. Orchestra musicians should REMAIN in the AFM and work within the existing system to bring about changes they want.
  3. Orchestra musicians should REMAIN in the AFM only if they are guaranteed substantially increased levels of self determination within the Federation.
  4. Orchestra musicians should LEAVE the AFM and not be unionized at all.
  5. Orchestra musicians should LEAVE the AFM and form their own national union.
  6. Orchestra musicians should LEAVE the AFM and join IGSOBM (International Guild Of Symphony, Opera And Ballet Musicians).
  7. Not certain

From those options, the three which garnered the most single votes were three, four, and five. Moreover, among respondents who selected more than one option, those were the three most popular combinations. It’s worth pointing out that orchestra musicians comprise about 1/3 of Adaptistration’s regular readership so there’s no reason to assume that musicians voted in the poll than any other stakeholder group (I have yet to encounter a manager without an opinion on the matter). Levine goes on to write:

I was, however, struck by the “unusually large spike in responses” which “shifted the response ratios quite a bit.” I wonder if someone from IGSOBM decided to play some head games with the AFM? Certainly the jump in positive responses to the question “should musicians leave the AFM for IGSOBM” might suggest so.

There’s no evidence of that. The poll uses IP address tracking to limit responses to a single IP address, so it becomes rather difficult for any one respondent to submit multiple sets of responses. It isn’t impossible but really, who wants to go to the trouble to manually reset an IP address or run around to a dozen public libraries in order to vote in this poll? To that end, with regard to Levine’s curiosity about IGSOBM shenanigans, I can say that based on the IP addresses associated with the spikes, nothing indicates a weighted response from Seattle based locations.

Frankly, I don’t get the animosity between some within the AFM and IGSOBM. Every time I hear one side demonize the other all I can think of is this Bart Simpson quote on religion: “The little stupid differences are nothing next to the big stupid similarities!” Then I wonder if anyone embroiled in the conflict has ever heard of reunification and the process therein that helps bring people together as opposed to keeping them apart.

Perhaps I think too much.

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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2 thoughts on “Leave The AFM? “I Don’t Think So””

  1. Drew – thanks for the info. I’m not sure I get the animosity between IGSOBM and the AFM either, but I’ve been a victim of it on occasion, leaving me wary of some of the original leaders of IGSOBM. There really shouldn’t be an IGSOBM at all; it was completely the product of AFM screw-ups. I suspect the history completely explains the hostility.

    It may be that enough time has passed that the history will be less important than figuring out how best to serve the interests of symphonic musicians. One can hope, at least.

    • Hi Robert, thanks for the feedback. If nothing else, the ICSOM/IGSOBM animosity is perhaps a good example of how personalities can get in the way of progress. Likewise, moving forward while setting aside any perceived slights will likely produce better prospects.

      Given the basic needs of orchestra musicians and the current cultural climate, something that happened decades ago is only important to those involved and everyone has their side of the story. To everyone else, it’s just a story about people that didn’t like each other. Ultimately, that means no victims, no restitution, no pay-back, and no apologies. It’s high time to begin focusing on the “big stupid similarities.”

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