Dear Diary

One of the unintended side-effects of helping to negotiate a new contract for one’s orchestra is the history that one learns along the way. This makes sense if one thinks about it; negotiations (especially regarding non-economic items) are often attempts by one or the other side to remedy problems that were often unforeseen when the relevant provisions of the contract were written, years or even decades ago.

I found myself, in the middle of a particularly trying caucus about some issue involving events that had happened years and years ago, attempting to write a history of the orchestra from the point of view of negotiations and contract administration. I quickly realized that 1) in the middle of a negotiation is not the time to start such a project, and 2) that I simply didn’t have a good enough memory to do it years after the fact.

So I’ve begun a contemporaneous record of the important events – from the standpoint of CBA negotiation and administration – that happen as the season goes by. These include:

  • auditions
  • any kinds of meetings and decisions regarding probation, tenure, and termination
  • any other kinds of disciplinary action
  • any contract waivers granted by the orchestra
  • any non-routine electronic media activity

Obviously this is not an exclusive list, and no doubt I’ll find some new kinds of things to record as they happen.

There are issues and problems with maintaining such a list. One major problem is that much of what happens in the personnel area is confidential. Presumably the union representative or orchestra committee chair will be in the loop, and can record such information. But what happens when new people come into those positions? Who will maintain and retain the history? What levels of confidentiality will be respected, and how will that be enforced internally?

It could be argued that all such significant events will leave a paper trail of some sort in the archives. Anyone making that argument should have a better archiving system than I’ve ever seen. Locals are not always good about maintaining records over long periods of time, and, even when they are, the relevant documents are liable to be scattered throughout the filing cabinets in individual members’ folders. And obviously having to ask management for records of long-ago events is not desirable in a negotiating or contract administration situation.

I’ve become convinced from bitter experience that it would be far better for orchestra musicians’ associations to set up and maintain some kind of centralized record of significant events and documents than to depend on the Local, or the management, or the Local’s legal counsel, to reconstruct a record that might be many years in the past but still needed. Such a record could be relatively simple; even just knowing when something happened and who was involved would be a great help in tracking down the relevant documentation from the Local’s files.

Think of it as a ship’s log. And imagine what fun the historians of the 22nd century (assuming there will be one, of course) will have with such a record.

About the author

Robert Levine
Robert Levine

Robert Levine has been the Principal Violist of the Milwaukee Symphony since September 1987. Before coming to Milwaukee Mr. Levine had been a member of the Orford String Quartet, Quartet-in-Residence at the University of Toronto, with whom he toured extensively throughout Canada, the United States, and South America. Prior to joining the Orford Quartet, Mr. Levine had served as Principal Violist of The Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra for six years. He has also performed with the San Francisco Symphony, the London Symphony of Canada, and the Oklahoma City Symphony, as well as serving as guest principal with the orchestras of Indianapolis and Hong Kong.

He has performed as soloist with the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra, The Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra, the Oklahoma City Symphony, the London Symphony of Canada, the Midsummer Mozart Festival (San Francisco), and numerous community orchestras in Northern California and Minnesota. He has also been featured on American Public Radio's nationally broadcast show "St. Paul Sunday Morning" on several occasions.

Mr. Levine has been an active chamber musician, having performed at the Festival Rolandseck in Germany, the Grand Teton Music Festival, the Palm Beach Festival, the "Strings in the Mountains" Festival in Colorado, and numerous concerts in the Twin Cities and Milwaukee. He has also been active in the field of new music, having commissioned and premiered works for viola and orchestra from Minnesota composers Janika Vandervelde and Libby Larsen.

Mr. Levine was chairman of the International Conference of Symphony and Opera Musicians from 1996 to 2002 and currently serves as President of the Milwaukee Musicians Association, Local 8 of the American Federation of Musicians, and as a member of the Board of Directors of the League of American Orchestras. He has written extensively about issues concerning orchestra musicians for publications of ICSOM, the AFM, the Symphony Orchestra Institute, and the League of American Orchestras.

Mr. Levine attended Stanford University and the Institute for Advanced Musical Studies in Switzerland. His primary teachers were Aaron Sten and Pamela Goldsmith. He also studied with Paul Doctor, Walter Trampler, Bruno Giuranna, and David Abel.

He lives with his wife Emily and his son Sam in Glendale.

Leave a Reply