Laura Ross  

What Is ICSOM?

Laura Ross
May 15, 2019

Editor's Abstract (Click to Hide)

Collective representation touches the lives of every orchestra musician at a number of contact points. Although most musicians are aware of what "the union" is, they may not realize how many facets of the union directly influence their career. One of those contact points is the International Conference of Symphony and Opera Musicians (ICSOM).

In an effort to help professional orchestra musicians better understand the organizations which represent them, ICSOM secretary and Nashville Symphony violinist, Laura Ross, has written an introductory guide explaining what ICSOM is and how it connects with the musicians.

- Drew McManus

The International Conference of Symphony and Opera Musicians (ICSOM) currently represents the top 52 AFM orchestras in the United States and Puerto Rico. It is a voluntary organization that is supported entirely by a voluntary dues structure.

ICSOM was formally established in 1962 in Chicago and Cleveland by delegates from US and Canadian orchestras. For 44 years ICSOM’s mission has been dedicated to “the promotion of a better and more rewarding livelihood for the skilled orchestral performer and to the enrichment of the cultural life of our society.”

ICSOM began as an organization dedicated to assisting orchestra musicians who were finding their Locals (individual “branches” of the American Federation of Musicians of the US and Canada) either uncooperative or unwilling to allow direct musician participation in collective bargaining of their agreements. Each orchestra’s agreement is negotiated between the Local and the management of that particular orchestra. For years these orchestra agreements were negotiated by local officers with less than adequate knowledge of the orchestra industry - they knew pop, big band, jazz and other types of freelance work. In most cases there was little or no input by the musicians, and most musicians were not even allowed to ratify their own agreements.

So, in 1962, members of US and Canadian orchestra began to meet and discuss ways they could communicate with each other, drafted bylaws, and began pushing the AFM for formal recognition of ICSOM as a conference of the AFM. Actual conference status was not conferred upon ICSOM until 1969. ICSOM’s example, and successes over the years inspired other groups to organize into formal conferences as well – the Recording Musicians Association (RMA), the Regional Orchestra Players’ Association (ROPA), and the Theater Musicians Association (TMA). ICSOM’s Canadian members left ICSOM when the Organization of Canadian Symphony Musicians (OCSM/OMOSC) was formed in 1975.

ICSOM’s key mission is to facilitate communication between its member orchestras, the delegates, the governing board and other members of the greater musical community and to offer support and assistance when possible. One of ICSOM’s most important roles is to hold an annual conference each year where elected delegates from each member orchestra participate in discussions and workshops regarding labor law, collective bargaining, contract administration, internal organizing, and negotiating strategies - the list is endless. Additionally, all member orchestra delegates are assigned to one of 4 Members-at-Large who, as members of ICSOM governing board, communicate information to and from the entire governing board. ICSOM also retains legal counsel (currently Leonard Leibowitz), and is available to member orchestras for advice.

The official newsletter of ICSOM is Senza Sordino (without mute), which is published at least 4 times annually. Since the very beginning ICSOM has collected data regarding individual collective bargaining agreements that continues to be published (now by the American Federation of Musicians) annually – the ICSOM Wage Chart. Whenever an orchestra settles a new contract, details are supplied through ICSOM Settlement Bulletins. Another publication of ICSOM is the ICSOM Directory which is published every year and contains not only the rosters of every member orchestra but emeriti from those constituent orchestras who wish to remain in communication with ICSOM and their colleagues.

In the last two decades ICSOM has moved onto the world wide web with a website www.icsom.org and mailing lists that are open to various constituent subscribers – Orchestra-L and Delegate-L.

In 1967 ICSOM began tabulating conductor evaluations and has nearly 600 different conductors in the current database. ICSOM is also involved in supporting minority-group instrumentalists and currently contributes prize money to winners of the Sphinx Competition. Orchestras in need of additional financial assistance during a work stoppage also have access ICSOM’s emergency relief fund.

ICSOM is also an advocate for its member orchestras on a national level. ICSOM governing board members meet frequently with AFM officers and staff to discuss matters of concern to all its orchestras. ICSOM’s electronic media committee has been involved for many decades as representatives at the bargaining table regarding national media agreements used by orchestras. ICSOM also works with other national organizations to represent the interests of its member orchestras and musicians in Washington DC and elsewhere.

ICSOM has had amazing success over the past 40-plus years. Its orchestras have grown from salaries of $5,000 for six-months of work to more than 20 orchestras with 52-week seasons, and an average of 40 weeks for all its members. Orchestras now participate directly in negotiations, ratify their agreements, and retain legal counsel of the orchestra’s choice. Protections such as tenure, peer review, and non-discrimination are key components in orchestra contracts. ICSOM was responsible for the establishment of the AFM Symphonic Services Division and the AFM Strike Fund.

Our members are only as strong as the information they have. ICSOM helps them find that information. ICSOM also continues to advocate for support of the arts locally and nationally.

 

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