ICSOM Conference Tackles the Big Issues

Musicians and the #MeToo Movement, Saying No to Non-Union Work, and Increasing Diversity in Orchestras...

Volume 118, No. 10October, 2018

Meredith Snow

The 56th International Conference of Symphony and Opera Musicians was held this year in Cincinnati, with a focus on the biggest issues in the worlsd of classical musicians.

The 56th annual meeting of the International Conference of Symphony and Opera Musicians was held this past August at the Hilton Cincinnati Netherland Plaza, a beautiful art deco hotel first opened in 1931. Hosted by the musicians of the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra and AFM Local 1, the conference was a huge success. Special thanks are owed to Local 1 President and Cincinnati Symphony violist Paul Frankenfeld, and Cincinnati ICSOM Delegate Ted Nelson.

In my opening speech, I addressed a number of issues that are of paramount importance to our ICSOM orchestras and to our union. The AFM Pension Fund was at the top of the agenda. Right now, it is the responsibility of every member of the AFM to contact their Congressional representatives and the Joint Select Committee and urge them to support legislation that will assist our fund in this crisis. You will have seen that the parameters of the proposed Butch Lewis Act have changed. Our fund would no longer be eligible for relief under these new guidelines. Nevertheless, it is imperative that our federal representatives hear from us. Let them know that you want a solution that protects participants in plans such as the AFM-EPF – just like the original version of Butch-Lewis did! Make your voice heard by using the tools on the AFM-EPF website to contact your members of Congress and the Joint Select Committee. Start at

The millions of Americans whose pension funds have been crippled by the deregulation of the banking industry and gambling on Wall Street need to speak up and vote for representation at the federal level this November that will help solve this crisis.

In my address, I also called out the insidious problem of our own AFM members accepting nonunion recording work, a topic that also appeared in several presentations. The Players Conference Council (which includes the presidents of ROPA, OCSM/OMOSC, TMA, RMA and ICSOM) held a panel discussion on internal organizing and educating our members on the vital importance of holding the union line. AFM leadership cannot negotiate progressive contracts with the major production companies if those executives know they can hire “under the table” some of the best players in the country. The ICSOM delegates unanimously adopted a resolution calling on all ICSOM musicians to reject any and all offers of employment for nonunion recording.

SSD Director Rochelle Skolnick spoke about sexual harassment in the symphonic workplace. With the backdrop of the #MeToo movement, allegations have been made by symphonic players who have stepped forward to speak about their experiences. These allegations must be addressed by our employers, who are responsible for providing a safe workplace. The delegates unanimously adopted a resolution calling on our employers to ensure a workplace that is free of discrimination, harassment and bullying, and for employers and musicians to create a culture in which musicians are comfortable coming forward to report instances of abuse.

ICSOM Counsel Kevin Case presented a group of sessions called “Bookends of Bargaining,” about how to survey your members and prepare for upcoming negotiations, and what to do when your contract expires without an agreement. He also moderated a panel on 401k and 403B retirement/savings accounts for our nonprofit orchestras.

The need for diversity, equity, and inclusion exists in all segments of our industry: onstage, backstage, out front, and in the board room. The League of American Orchestras has been working for a number of years to encourage diversifying staff, management, boards, repertoire, soloists and conductors in orchestras nationwide. A panel explored where our ICSOM orchestras stand now in relation to diversity, equity and inclusion. While progress is being made and we are seeing more diverse hiring practices, there is a perception that implicit bias may still be affecting our audition processes. Many of our orchestras have screened auditions up until the final round, but out of 52 ICSOM orchestras, only 12 currently keep screens up throughout the entire audition process: Boston, Buffalo, Charlotte, Cincinnati, Dallas, Detroit, Hawaii, Kennedy Center, the MET, San Francisco Symphony, Utah and Virginia. Delegates at this year’s conference unanimously adopted a resolution encouraging all ICSOM orchestras to adopt a process that retains screens throughout every individual round of the audition.

The terms of five of our nine officers expired, and all five were re-elected. I am thrilled that we will have the same talented team leading ICSOM into the future.

For full resolutions and election results, visit

Meredith Snow, a violist with the Los Angeles Philharmonic, is the chair of ICSOM and a member of AFM Local 47 (Los Angeles).