Goodbye and Farewell

Financial Vice President's Report

Volume 111, No. 7/8July, 2011

Jay Blumenthal

It all began in the early 1990’s on a two hour ride in the back of a van from Denver to Vail, Colorado. Sharing the ride were two men who were in Colorado for the same purpose as I. We were all attending the annual International Conference of Symphony and Opera Musicians (ICSOM) conference. I was a newbie representing the NYC Ballet Orchestra; they were alums with a good deal of ICSOM experience.

One of them turned to me and said, “So you’re the orchestra activist!” The statement caught me off guard. I never thought of myself as an “activist.” I was just another musician in New York trying to make a living when my orchestra committee urged me to attend the conference since our regular delegate was unable to go.

“I guess I am,” I replied while trying to hide my naiveté. At the time, little did I know my answer that day would lead to a fulfilling second career with the union.

The ICSOM conference was at times inspiring, hilarious, heart wrenching, uplifting and exhausting. There were stories relating the epic battles of musicians fighting for respect and the ability to earn a living to support their families. Also discussed were solutions to various problems of mutual concern. It was an experience I will never forget.

I became involved with the union after experiencing what many of us experienced back in the early 1980’s. At that time contractors would refuse to hire musicians for long periods because we had turned down an offer of work due to a conflicting engagement. Or after working consistently for a contractor the hiring calls just stopped because a new hot player arrived in town that was all the rage. Moments like these hurt deeply. In my case, it made me want to help fight for all freelance musicians who experienced what I had and much worse.

As a freelance orchestra committee member, my first fight was for collective bargaining agreements with major freelance orchestras. The jewel in the crown achieved in this negotiation was the job security that resulted from the creation of tenured hiring lists in the freelance field. The musicians on these lists now had first-call rights in their respective orchestras, giving them the right of first refusal of all work. Previously unheard of in the freelance symphonic field, first-call rights now created some fairness. No longer could musicians be terminated without cause. These CBA’s also improved wages, benefits and working conditions. But these changes were not without controversy. Some musicians who worked all the time due to a close relationship with many contractors resisted the changes; however, the vast majority of freelance musicians welcomed them.

One thing leads to another and soon I found myself not only serving on orchestra committees, but also on the ICSOM Governing Board, the Local 802 Executive Board and – the greatest honor of all – serving as your financial vice president for the past eight years. As we remember all too well, it was a bumpy ride at times for both internal and external reasons. My goal throughout was to maintain continuity and a sense of stability, for I never ever doubted that our great Local 802 would emerge stronger and more unified than ever.

Several months ago, our new AFM President Raymond Hair asked me to join his team as director of the AFM Symphonic Services Division as well as assistant treasurer to AFM Secretary Treasurer Sam Folio. I have accepted these positions. The challenges are daunting. We have all been reading about struggling orchestras; some claim that bankruptcy is the only answer. Finger pointing will not help this situation. What will help is building relationships, truthful discussions, creative thinking, and public education. I truly believe we can work through the challenges because in the end, we as musicians are the repository and stewards for the greatest expression of humanity. Failure is simply not an option.

So I say farewell to you as your financial vice president. Thank you so much for the opportunity you bestowed upon me. Local 802 will always remain in my heart as I move to the Federation, bringing with me all that I have learned from you.

Thank you for the honor and privilege of serving the greatest musicians’ local in the world: Local 802!