Final thoughts on the 2013 AFM Convention

I now know how Charlie Brown would have felt had, just once, Lucy let him actually kick the football. He would have felt a stunned disbelief that what he had long wanted to happen – and what should have been happening all along – finally did happen. I don’t know what he would have felt next, as I’m still in the “stunned disbelief” phase.

For the past 20 years I’ve been part of a movement within the AFM that started decades before that, that never had a name, and that didn’t even have a goal that all the participants would have agreed on. The phrase I used to describe that goal was “making the AFM a real union,” but I’m sure that others in that movement would have phrased it rather differently.

It was originally a movement of people within the recording and symphonic communities, but it always had some others on its side. Often they were the younger local officers (younger at the time, anyway) – people like Ray Hair and Bill Moriarity and Ken Shirk and Steve Young and many others. Those of us in the player conferences didn’t always think of people like Ray and Bill and Ken as on the same side as us, and perhaps they didn’t either – but, in terms of the long-term goal of “making the AFM a real union,” we were in the same trench getting bombarded by the same folks.

My experience of that movement was as one of frequent failures and lots of resistance from AFM Conventions and the officers they elected over the years. We’d put forward big ideas for change and come away with tiny technical modifications to the bylaws that, in practical terms, made no real difference. We’d fight to get organizing departments and end up with one or two overworked staffers with multiple portfolios. We’d get slapped down by the IEB and the Convention, over and over. The football would be snatched away and we’d fall flat on our asses, time and time again.

But, underneath those failures and that resistance and those rebuffs, there was change happening – change in the composition of locals, change in who they elected as local officers and convention delegates, and even change in how the old guard thought about us and the union. The results of that change began to emerge in 2010 with the election of Ray Hair and an IEB almost completely aligned with his view of what the AFM should be, although that election also resulted from the general belief that the previous administration had simply failed in its core task of maintaining unity within the AFM.

But this convention represented the eruption of that subterranean change into Convention decision-making. For once, delegates didn’t regard AFM finances as a zero-sum game and demand that the AFM do more with less. Quite the opposite; they approved a financing package that not only provided the AFM with substantial new revenues, but would also cause their locals significant pain. They did so in large part because the IEB treated them as adults and told them, in detail, what they were going to do with the money – also a first for the AFM, at least since I’ve been going to conventions (my first was 1995; you can read about my experience here).

And, for the first time, a symphonic labor dispute became the emotional center of an AFM Convention. I have no doubt that, had the Minnesota lock-out happened in 2010 or 2007 or even 1995, the Convention would have taken note and passed a nicely-worded resolution of support for the Minnesota Orchestra musicians. But this Convention came to a screeching halt in order that the delegates could fall over themselves to donate money to Local 30-73, on the unspoken basis that the Local deserved the support because of what they had endured for their members. That would not have happened before this year.

So, while the AFM has been quietly morphing into a different institution for a number of years, this was the Convention where it emerged from its cocoon. I’ve seen a few historic moments in my life, most of then bad. This was a good one. I’m glad I was there to watch it.

(cross-posted to the AFM Observer)

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