Symphony Musicians Association
Ten Questions for Arts Attorney Kevin Case
Kevin Case has long been recognized as a leading arts attorney. Today many are eternally grateful for his level-headed advice that has guided orchestral musicians through challenging times of COVID. Kevin Case has negotiated contracts on behalf of many ICSOM orchestras, including advising the GRSMA committee since January of 2020. We are pleased to get to know a bit more about attorney and musician Kevin Case through this interview, and we smile as we see that "case" is the final word here (literally and figuratively).
GRSMA: We were pleased to learn of your connections to our state. Tell us about your time in Michigan.
KC: My family moved from Long Island NY to the Detroit suburbs when I was nine years old. I suppose one could say I therefore spent my formative years in Michigan. I also attended Interlochen Arts Academy for two years of high school, so I was able to experience an entirely different region of the state — which I loved!
More recently, I’ve represented the musicians of the Detroit Symphony since 2014, traveling often to Detroit to negotiate several collective bargaining agreements. So I have spent a fair amount of time in the area; and, of course, I am now working with the fine musicians of the GRS, so my connections to Michigan remain strong.
GRSMA: You are an accomplished musician and have impressive credentials as a violinist. Is there a memorable performance or two that you would like to share with us?
KC: Before I moved to Chicago, I was concertmaster of the Memphis Symphony. In my third year there I performed the Brahms Violin Concerto with the MSO. There were three performances; each got better, and by the third, I felt totally relaxed and just let loose. That’s not an easy thing to do when you aren’t an established soloist with hundreds of concerto performances a year. But I was in the zone for that one.
I can also think of a few memorable chamber music performances. Looking back, I’m amazed at the level of talent of the musicians with whom I collaborated — many are now some of the biggest names in the business. One year at the Eastman School of Music I performed Messiaen’s magnificent Quartet for the End of Time for violin, clarinet, cello, and piano. The cellist I played with is now Principal Cello of the LA Philharmonic, and the clarinetist is Principal Clarinet in the Chicago Symphony! If only I had known then what I know now…
GRSMA: Thousands of musicians are the grateful recipients of your work as an attorney. What led you to pursuing a law degree?
KC: Whenever I thought about what else I might do besides playing the violin, law was always the first thing that came to mind. During my time as a violinist with the Grant Park Symphony, I was elected to the musicians’ Orchestra Committee, eventually becoming the Chair. I discovered that I gained great satisfaction from negotiating CBAs, administering the contract, and dealing with all of the issues that come up in a busy orchestral workplace. That led me to explore going to law school.
But in the end, I think the primary reason for making the switch was a realization that I needed to exercise other parts of my mind. I tend to think quite analytically, and while one can definitely use that skill in music, it only goes so far.
GRSMA: It is impressive that you still perform as a soloist and orchestral player. How do you balance being an attorney and a violinist?
KC: That’s the beauty of having my own law practice. I don’t have to show up at an office from 9am to 6pm every day. I can manage my own hours and my own workload, and I can do much of my work from home. So if I feel like playing violin for an hour or two in the middle of the day, I can simply do that!
That came in handy during the pandemic, when I was on Zoom calls for many hours every day negotiating contract revisions, safety protocols, and the like. I keep my violin just a few feet away from my desk, so when it got to be too much — and believe me, there is definitely such a thing as too much Zoom — I could take a mental break and work on my solo Telemann or Bach. It really helped keep me sane in a difficult time.
GRSMA: We are happy to join AFM Local 56 in hosting ICSOM's 60th annual conference next summer in Grand Rapids. (See our article "ICSOM's 2022 Conference Will Be in GR!" in this newsletter HERE) You work with many ICSOM orchestras. What makes this organization so special?
KC: My association with ICSOM goes way back — during my time on the Grant Park Orchestra Committee, I was also the ICSOM Delegate from the orchestra for several years, beginning in 1997. Once I started my current law practice, I again attended the annual ICSOM conference as an attorney representing the musicians of several orchestras; and now, I’m ICSOM General Counsel. So I’ve seen ICSOM in action from a variety of different perspectives over quite a long period of time.
ICSOM is a remarkable organization. It brings together musicians from all over the country who can share information and ideas, support one another, and work to continually better the lives of professional orchestral musicians. It has fostered a great sense of solidarity across more than 50 orchestras in the U.S. Nothing demonstrates that more than when ICSOM issues a Call to Action to help an orchestra going through a rough labor situation. Just about every ICSOM orchestra sends funds to the affected musicians, which helps them survive when their dispute extends for a significant length of time.
Most recently we’ve seen that in San Antonio, where the musicians were forced to strike when management unlawfully imposed contract terms that would convert full-time musicians to part-time status with meager pay and no benefits, while reducing the pay of the full-time musicians to near-poverty levels. ICSOM orchestras across the country have responded, affording the SAS musicians a much-needed lifeline as they stand up for fair wages and working conditions.
GRSMA: For the past several years you have been the attorney for our contract negotiations with the Grand Rapids Symphony Society. (See our article "Two-Year Agreement Reached in GR" HERE) Do you have any observations that make our group unique?
KC: Your musician leadership is truly outstanding. Unlike in most situations where I sit at the bargaining table, I have been able to advise your Negotiation Committee "in the background” while they have done the actual negotiating with the Society. That sometimes doesn’t work very well, but in GRS’s case it was a great success. That is a tribute to both the hard work of musicians of this orchestra and the relationship they’ve been able to cultivate with the Society.
My only regret is that I still haven’t been able to attend a GRS concert! I started working with you all in January 2020, so the pandemic put a damper on my ability to travel and hear the orchestra in person. I will remedy that soon — I promise!
GRSMA: We cannot imagine that you have any spare time, but do you have any hobbies or activities that you enjoy for relaxation?
KC: Not a lot of spare time, but I do enjoy working around the house. My partner and I live in an 1895 Victorian, so there is always something to do. I can’t say I’m any kind of expert, but I do my best to educate myself as I go along. There is something quite gratifying about fixing things.
The pandemic also gave me the opportunity to work in the yard. I’m less successful at gardening endeavors, but it’s enjoyable all the same.
GRSMA: Nearly all of our musicians have pets. Tell us about your cat, who occasionally makes an appearance on Zoom calls.
KC: We actually have three cats, two of whom you’ve seen on Zoom calls — Dexter and Sammy Peaches. He’s an old guy who likes to walk around yelling at the top of his lungs for no reason whatsoever. She is sweetness personified — except when she hisses, also for no reason.
We also have a little guy that started coming around to the back deck asking for food a few months ago, and who now loudly demands three squares a day through the screen door. Of course we oblige — cat people know that at the end of the day, we’re really just the staff, obligated to cater to their every whim.
GRSMA: We were pleased to return to indoor concerts for live audiences in 2021. Do you have thoughts on the return of many orchestras to their concert halls this season?
KC: It’s so wonderful to see! Most orchestras are operating essentially as normal at this point, thanks to mass vaccination and strong safety protocols. The COVID risk in an orchestral workplace is higher than in many industries, because half the musicians cannot wear masks while performing and both emit and inhale aerosols to a significant degree when playing their instruments. I know that vaccines have become a polarizing issue, but the high vaccination rate among musicians — often 100% of the orchestra is fully vaccinated — is the only reason orchestras are able to perform with full forces, without distancing.
There has been some concern about how quickly audiences will return, but I’m confident. Back in June and July — pre-Delta — it was clear that there was a real pent-up demand for live music, which was reflected in strong ticket sales. Delta put a bit of a damper on that; but now that we seem to be emerging from this wave, I’m seeing audiences become more comfortable coming to our concert halls. There is such a hunger out there to get back to the things we all loved doing before COVID, and a newfound appreciation for orchestras and what they do. Sometimes you don’t know how much you miss something until it’s no longer there, right?
GRSMA: Is there a moment in your career of which you are the most proud?
KC: I’d like to think my efforts during the pandemic made a difference. This was an existential crisis for orchestras, and because it deeply affected the entire industry, it required an industry-wide response. To that end, I worked with about two dozen different orchestras individually, and through ICSOM I was able to help coordinate efforts with musicians in orchestras nationwide. That resulted in a certain standardization, especially with respect to safety protocols and to a large degree with contract settlements. My goal was to ensure that musicians stayed healthy and didn’t have to sell their homes and instruments. With a few unfortunate exceptions, that has proved to be the case.