Elton John made headlines this July by donating the proceeds of one of his Radio City Music Hall concerts to Manhattan’s Juilliard School and the London Royal Academy of Music. Backed by a 99-piece orchestra, Sir Elton belted out symphonic arrangements of his greatest hits to several sold-out crowds during his limited engagement. Audience members may not have realized that this polished orchestra was largely comprised of students from the two beneficiary schools.
The students’ professional and artistic aptitude came as no surprise to the members and staff of Local 802, however. President David Lennon is a Juilliard alumnus himself, and the five concerts with Elton John proved a wonderful opportunity to further the relationship between the school and the union. Both 802’s Executive Board and the AFM decided to waive the initiation fees for any of the Juilliard musicians who were not yet members. The students were invited to join the union during a special initiation session in the 802 Club Room.
These young musicians had good reason to be enthusiastic about the union. Producers often exploit students’ eagerness for exposure by asking them to play for free or for well below established minimums; however, these students were treated as professionals from the start. All of the contracts for this spectacle were properly filed with the union — and there were several of them. The five-evening engagement was extensively recorded with plans for a compact disc, a Bravo program and a network special broadcast, all of which were covered by collective bargaining agreements.
President Lennon was on hand to host the July 15 education session. He welcomed twenty of Elton John’s young backing musicians by sharing anecdotes of his own life after Juilliard. Financial Vice President Jay Blumenthal also addressed the musicians, and pointed to the significance of 802 being a union for musicians run by musicians. Michael Manley, director of the AFM’s Touring, Theatre and Booking Department, explained the importance of unionization for musicians on the road. 802 Organizing Director Joe Eisman ran through the fundamentals of turning nonunion jobs into union jobs. Many other officers and staff were on hand to answer questions. The afternoon was capped off with a rousing seminar on the collective bargaining process, led by
802 counsel Lenny Leibowitz and Peg Leibowitz, professor of labor relations.