Arts vs. chaos

Financial vice president's report

Volume 120, No. 10November, 2020

Karen Fisher

The Orpheus Chamber Ensemble performed an outdoor, socially distant, live recording session at Beechwood Park in Hillsdale, New Jersey at the beginning of October. The concert was later streamed to the public. Musicians were covered under a Local 802 contract. Photo by Chris Lee. More photos at end of article.

In a normal November, midtown streets would be alive with ticket buying tourists and busy musicians frenetically carting instruments from rehearsals to concerts. Kids would be back in school and we would be juggling dates, meeting with friends and colleagues, and making holiday plans. Instead, we are juggling bags of groceries and dolefully poring over bank statements, many of us wondering how we will make rent. As 2020 continues its relentless, destructive course, live concerts have been mostly shut down for seven months and concert halls and theatres promise to stay dark for at least another seven. The adrenaline rush of those first few weeks in March and April (Bake bread! Read! Clean!) has dissolved into malaise, restlessness, and anxiety. To add to the impossibility of making sense of this new, altered state, we are on the precipice of the most significant presidential election of our lives.

As distressing as all this is, pandemics and national chaos cannot crush the human spirit if that spirit is nurtured by the arts. Throughout history, artistic expression has been a response to political upheaval, war, and suffering. Examples are easy to find in countless works of art and music; Picasso’s Guernica, Beethoven’s Eroica Symphony, and Shostakovich’s 7th Symphony come immediately to mind. (A fascinating example of the clash of music and politics is Richard Nixon’s meltdown over the performance of Bernstein’s Mass at the opening of the Kennedy Center). Music has been created and performed in concentration camps and on plantations, the most horrific settings imaginable. Those who say we are expendable, frivolous, or unnecessary do not recognize how vital music and the performing arts are to our very existence as human beings. It is heartbreaking to know that dear, talented, hardworking colleagues are now obliged to sit idle or maintenance practicing, while politicians and pundits cavalierly make mincemeat of livelihoods and careers. I read devasting posts on social media expressing despair, dread, and frustration. And yet, musicians are finding creative outlets and alternate ways to earn income until regular work resumes. We are still teaching online and performing in small, socially distant groups in backyards, in the streets, online, and on social media platforms. Many freelance orchestras have found new, impactful ways to perform and remain in public view. Queens Symphony and the New Jersey Festival Orchestra held small ensemble performances outdoors last month. St. Luke’s Chamber Ensemble continues to stream live performances from the Di Menna Center and Little Orchestra Society finished its first online Halloween concert. American Symphony Orchestra has completed nine chamber concerts and recorded a soon-to be announced world premiere of three new pieces (see photos at end of article). The Stamford Symphony recorded and streamed its yearly gala.

Negotiations for a successor agreement with Orpheus Chamber Ensemble, which recorded a fifth live performance in October, are underway. The Bronx Arts Ensemble ratified a one-year extension agreement on October 16, and has been posting short, educational videos on its website under an AFM video-on-demand agreement.

My hope is that as the months roll on, I will be able to report that more orchestra boards and managements have stepped up and found the creativity and funds required to put musicians back to work.

I ran for this office to make our union stronger through bargaining fair contracts and to shore up our union’s finances, not to watch a pandemic wipe out our industry. Local 802 has moved into hyper-efficient mode by slimming down and examining every aspect of our operations, always mindful of our mission to “unite to fight for the common interests of all musicians by advancing industry standards that dignify our labor and honor and enrich our art.” Although our physical office is closed, the officers, business reps and staff are still working very hard to serve you. Please don’t hesitate to reach out to us! (The best way to do so is by e-mail at

The finance department has been working on numerous projections and started work on our 2021 budget, a particularly challenging task this year due to the many changes and uncertainties created by the crisis. Our goal is to have that in place and approved by the Executive Board before the end of the year.

On October 6, members and elected officials rallied in a well-attended #RespectUs march to demand streaming residuals for TV bands. It was especially gratifying to see so many musicians from all genres come out in support of fair pay for the musicians who create the vitality and excitement of late-night TV. I also recently attended the AFL-CIO digital three-day organizing training for member and staff organizers. This immersive seminar, led by veteran professional organizers from various labor unions as well as the AFM, provided insight on how to have effective organizing conversations, how to develop and identify leaders in the workplace, and strategies for running issue campaigns. Several AFM and Local 802 members, many of whom are activists in the AFM TV negotiations, also attended. Members in active organizing campaigns or with upcoming negotiations as well as those with an interest in labor relations can check out for a wealth of information and schedule of upcoming seminars and training.

What can you do today to improve your life? If you have not voted yet, make a plan right now to do so on November 3. (Please check out Local 802’s Election Resource Center.) Our industry and our country are suffering because too many people in 2016 thought the outcome was a done deal or that their vote would not matter. If you have friends or relatives in Pennsylvania, Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Michigan, Minnesota, North Carolina, or Wisconsin, call, write, and implore them to cast their ballot for Joe Biden and Kamala Harris. The sooner we get sane, rational, scientific based leadership in government, the sooner we will see the end of this pandemic and get back to performing live music for live audiences.


  • Socially-distanced live chamber music performances in the beautiful setting of Washington Lake Park Amphitheater in Sewell, New Jersey with string quartets featuring musicians from the ASO
  • A string quartet featuring musicians from the ASO performing a program of works by Black composers at the Morris Museum & Bryant Park
  • Woodwinds at Opus 40 in upstate NY
  • Photos of recording session


American Symphony Orchestra on Sept. 12, 2020 (photo by Marc Basch)

American Symphony Orchestra chamber concert on Sept. 12, 2020 (photo by Marc Basch)

Philip Payton with the ASO (photo by Marc Basch)

American Symphony Orchestra string quartet (photo by Marc Basch)

The ASO at the Morris Museum

Julia Liam, Opus 40

ASO audience in front of the Morris Museum

ASO quartet with Philip Payton in Bryant Park

ASO recording session

ASO recording session (photo by Matt Dine)

ASO recording session (photo by Matt Dine)

ASO recording session (photo by Matt Dine)

ASO recording session (photo by Matt Dine)

ASO recording session (photo by Matt Dine)

ASO recording session (photo by Matt Dine)

ASO recording session (photo by Matt Dine)

ASO recording session (photo by Matt Dine)

ASO recording session (photo by Matt Dine)

ASO recording session (photo by Matt Dine)

ASO recording session (photo by Matt Dine)


Oct. 10, 2020 at the Maspeth Federal Savings Bank in Queens as part of a health event with COVID testing and cardiovascular testing. Pictured below are Katherine Fink (flute), Marsha Heller (oboe), Miriam Lockhart (clarinet), Francisco Donaruma (French horn) and Atsuko Sato (bassoon). Also pictured are NYC Councilmember Robert Holden, QSO Executive Director Deborah Surdi and QSO President Kenichi Wilson.