2008 Conference

Opening address to the 2008 ICSOM Conference
August 20, 2008

Bruce Ridge, Chairman

This season my travels have continued, from Berlin to British Columbia, as I have worked to spread the message of ICSOM. I am constantly inspired by the commitment of our musicians to serving their communities, and I learn from you all as we continue to articulate a positive message about the future of the arts in America and beyond.

In late 2007, much of our attention was focused on the egregious lockout of the Jacksonville Symphony. In a tremendous show of support, the musicians of North America contributed nearly $100,000 in response to ICSOM’s Call to Action to ensure that the members of that orchestra would prevail in their ordeal. The musicians of Jacksonville are heroes in their city. They responded to a negative board by offering a message of hope that generated tremendous support from within the community. I was humbled and honored to be able to work so closely with the musicians of the Jacksonville Symphony, and we are joined by two of those stalwart artists here today, Brian Osborne and John Wieland. Brian, John, and their colleagues saved their orchestra, and the united musicians of ICSOM demonstrated to their board that this was indeed a national issue.

No sooner had the issue in Jacksonville been resolved than we received news of an insidious document from the board in Columbus. A plan had been devised in isolation that would decimate that great orchestra and unravel the investment the community has made for over 56 years. Once again, the musician leadership (represented here by Mike Buccicone and Doug Fisher) worked to connect with their supporters. And while their board maintained that they couldn’t produce concerts during the summer, the musicians themselves have continued to seek out ways to perform and serve. Once again, ICSOM issued a Call to Action. We were concerned about the timing of this Call, since it was issued at the start of the summer. We thought that it might not be as successful, as many of our orchestras were on break.

But when it comes to supporting our colleagues, the musicians of ICSOM have shown that they will always answer the call. The donations for Columbus have surpassed any of our expectations, and now total over $112,000. The number is still rising, and the number needs to keep rising. The crisis in Columbus persists, and we must continue this drive until the negativity of the board has been disproved and the musicians of the Columbus Symphony are back on stage.

In less than eight months, ICSOM, along with the support of our great friends in other Players’ Conferences, has raised the unprecedented amount of well over $200,000 to send a message across the country that we all will stand together, united in the cause of community service and artistic excellence.

In a world that can, at times, seem increasingly selfish, it is truly uplifting that the musicians of ICSOM and of North America have so selflessly and altruistically reached out across the country to support their brothers and sisters in need. We are all friends, whether we have ever met or not. We share a unique connection, and as I have often said, I never travel alone. I am constantly accompanied by musicians who are performing at the same time, on the same night, and who share the same goals of community service and the elevation of the human spirit.

Another trouble spot this year has been in Shreveport, where our colleagues from a ROPA orchestra have faced a board that would irreversibly damage that organization. A few weeks ago, I visited the web site of the Shreveport Symphony. The site has been changed in the past few days, but at the time I was astonished by the homepage. It did not say “The Shreveport Symphony- We’re Great!.” It did not say that the arts in Louisiana reach over 3.5 million school children every year. It did not say that the arts are a $900 million business in the state. It did not even ask for support. No, instead it provided a link to the Flanagan report.

Much has been written this year about the release of a report, written by Stanford economist Robert Flanagan, called The Economic Environment of American Symphony Orchestras which was commissioned by the Andrew W. Mellon foundation.

It seems that every few years or so a new report is commissioned and released about the Symphony Orchestra industry in America that suggests that orchestras are not sustainable, and they generally place the blame, at least partly if not occasionally entirely, on musician salaries. It is difficult to determine just when the industry became so committed to proving to its public that failure is inevitable, but the self-destructive pattern of behavior has been around for decades. A United Press International article from 1970 famously depicts the findings of the death sentence report of that era, titled “25 Symphonies Doomed to Die.”

We have a document from the Board of the Chicago Symphony, that states in part:

“To continue to maintain (our) leadership and influence, the Orchestral Association now must solve a problem which has arisen from economic conditions beyond its control. A deficit has been incurred…and this affects the future of the orchestra. Thus, all who appreciate good music in Chicago have a problem in common.”

This would be a great source of alarm for us all, were it not for the fact that this document was written in 1940.

There have been some within Mellon, as well as some managers, that have not fully understood our concerns about the Flanagan report. But gradually, our predictions are coming true. In my meeting with the Board chair in Columbus, Mr. Trafford cited the Flanagan report as evidence supporting the board’s draconian actions. And now we see the report publicly promoted in Shreveport. This is a report that makes indisputably faulty conclusions based on indisputably faulty data.

We will most certainly see this report used for negative effect in our communities. But we can and we must prepare ourselves to counteract that with the positive message that our audiences are longing to hear.

We have flourished despite these negative reports before. No matter how deeply our industry might be committed to publicizing its impending death, orchestras somehow manage to survive. In fact, in many places, they are thriving. This is due to the leadership of creative managers and active boards who are able to effectively demonstrate the relevance of the arts in their communities. It is a relatively simple formula: people will invest in things that serve the citizenry, and they won’t invest in things that they are repeatedly told are unsustainable.

While these trouble spots have required our attention this year, they are all the more mystifying in light of the great things that are occurring elsewhere, in an era that the New York Times has said could be “the Golden Age for Classical Music.”

The Florida Orchestra has raised $11 million towards their sustainability campaign. The Nashville Symphony won three Grammy awards recorded in their magnificent new hall which has revitalized the historic downtown. The Oregon Symphony announced an increase in attendance over 20%. The Fort Worth Symphony received rave reviews for their Carnegie Hall appearances. The Buffalo Philharmonic’s endowment drive approached its $30 million goal. The New York Philharmonic received more press coverage than the Oscars, the Kansas City Symphony announced an increase in all areas of attendance as they invested in their new multi-million dollar concert hall. The Houston Symphony saw a record fourth consecutive year of balanced budgets as attendance rose, and all areas of revenue increased. Live operas filled movie theaters, and downloads for classical music rose faster than for any other genre of music.

Ten days ago I was in Victoria for the OCSM Conference, where we were all privileged to attend a great event on the harbor in the beautiful downtown. The Victoria Symphony performed its annual “Symphony Splash” concert for well over 40,000 people, some of whom had camped out for prime seats. I was told that, in the past, people would use bicycle chains to hold their seats in advance of the arriving throng, but authorities had to put a stop to that this year. Carla Lehmeier, Dan Blackman and I wandered through the huge gathering, ironically thinking: “But I thought they said orchestras were dying.”

Despite the successes that are so apparent, we must remain vigilant.

We are not without our problems. There are many issues before us that we will discuss this week. We will seek out ways to promote our areas of agreement, and we will discuss our disagreements in the spirit of solidarity and elevated debate that marks the history of this organization.

We must continue to seek out solutions to the ever changing issues that surround the evolution of technology in electronic media.

We must continue to break the fourth wall and reach out to audiences as we serve them in new and innovative ways.

We must explore ways to demonstrate the educational value of our orchestras to the next generation of Americans.

And, we must continue to build our relationships with the press. As we ask those who cover us to be our advocates, we must be their advocates as well. In too many cities we see our print media outlets eliminating their music critics and arts editors. No newspaper can adequately serve their community without devoting coverage to the local and national arts scene.

On these issues, and on many others, I encourage you to speak your mind freely this week. The Governing Board is eager to learn from you, and we need you to inspire us with your ideas. Let this meeting stand as a model of communication that can be spread to our musicians, managements, and boards throughout the coming season, and the many years ahead.

Further, let the unity within ICSOM offer great hope to this union. While other segments of the union might be facing dissension, our aspirations can offer solutions and promote dialogue that will serve all of the musicians of North America.

As ICSOM has been so nobly served by those who went before us, the tradition of inspirational service continues today with the Governing Board that I am privileged to work with. I depend on them all, and they inspire me on a daily, if not hourly basis. I am never happier than I am when working with your Governing Board. They have offered me their support and friendship, and I’d like to spend a few moments giving them the recognition they deserve.

I must start with ICSOM President Brian Rood. There is sometimes confusion based on the traditional titles of the officers of ICSOM: who is the chair…who is the president? I have to tell you, that it really doesn’t matter. Brian and I have a great partnership. We talk on a daily basis, and I rarely make a phone call without first consulting him. The respect he garners in this field is remarkable, and his integrity is famously unassailable. Every musician is in his debt, but none more than I.

Laura Ross is universally recognized as one of the most knowledgeable people in this entire union. I depend on her constantly for facts and history, and I know that it is a pretty safe bet that anytime I call, she will be hard at work. Her dedication and work ethic is absolutely unbelievable.

Michael Moore is the consummate treasurer for this, or any other organization. It is through his skill and ideas that we are able to provide so many services on such a shoe string budget.

Richard Levine continues to elevate the profile of our publication, Senza Sordino. We are constantly seeing new evidence the our newsletter is becoming even more widely read and appreciated throughout the field.

Member-at-Large Paul Gunther, in his erudite way, can talk to anyone about any issue and lead us to common ground.

Cathy Payne’s energy and knowledge are invaluable, and her ideas can be seen in the most recent issue of Senza in her two articles that are receiving great acclaim.

James Nickel had to step away from the board this season, but not before amazing us with his accomplishments. He and his wife welcomed their second child, and at the same time James was preparing to win a new position with the National Symphony. We all miss him on the Governing Board, and we eagerly await his return to a position of leadership within ICSOM.

The Governing Board appointed Matt Comerford to complete James’ term. Matt joined the board with great enthusiasm and knowledge, and has been invaluable in areas of media as well as the discussion of pension issues.

Distinguished ICSOM Legal Counsel Len Leibowitz continues to be the constant source of inspiration to this organization. I recently read a brief tribute to Lenny from the North Carolina Symphony musicians in an 1974 issue of Senza, some 15 years before I joined the orchestra. My predecessors wrote: “We feel the sense of solidarity and pride we have discovered is a direct result of the inspiration of Len Leibowitz.” Len has been inspiring us all for nearly 40 years.

We all miss Meredith Snow at this year’s conference. Meredith is truly the heart of this Governing Board, and our hearts go out to her and her family at this time. Less than two weeks ago, her husband was involved in a serious accident. While on a bike ride, he was struck by a drunk driver. Events such as this always serve as evidence of just how precious life is, and how it can change in a mere moment. But, the good news is that there is hope for a complete recovery, and the latest information gives us reason for optimism. Meredith and her family will be in our thoughts all this week, and in the months to come.

For all of us, the work is exhausting, and in moments it can feel as if we are peddling into the wind. And on certain days we feel, as Dylan wrote, “one too many mornings and a thousand miles behind.” But on those days we do not rise to terminate our slumber; we rise to pursue our dreams.

All too often and in far too many places, we must be our own advocates for our communities. In places where the bastions against progress stand silent when confronted with fallacies and the purveyors of negativity are blind to the opportunity that investment affords them, we must ensure that they hear our voices as well as our music. Our audiences are eager to hear the message that we offer, and they are ready to reject the rhetoric of those who would suggest that their cities cannot achieve all that they deserve. Let us never rest in this cause, and let us remember that with every victory a new challenge awaits.

In this coming season, I have no doubt that we will be celebrating many successes for our orchestras and musicians across the country. But there can also be no doubt that new struggles await. We will stand together, ready to be true advocates for musicians everywhere, and we will create new opportunities to offer our message of hope to our communities.

Thank you for the honor of serving as your chair for these past two years, and I look forward to being inspired by your ideas and to visiting with you all this week.

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