Let’s back up choirs with union musicians, starting with the Pope!

Financial Vice President's Report

Volume 115, No. 12December, 2015

Tom Olcott
Tom Olcott is the financial vice president of Local 802 and the supervisor of the union's concert department

Tom Olcott is the financial vice president of Local 802 and the supervisor of the union’s concert department

My final column of 2015 can serve as wrap-up of the year, as well as a glimpse of things to come. I’ve written several times about a few road trips in 2015, events where I left 322 West 48th Street, sometimes for educational purposes and sometimes on “ambassadorial” endeavors. The educational events have been very stimulating, and mostly involve learning from experts. My ambassadorial duties are the reverse process, where my words have implications for Local 802 or for the music industry and culture at large.

I have reported pretty extensively on the educational side of things as I attended meetings this year of the IFEBP New Trustee Institute and the Cornell Union Leadership Institute. My relationship with the Cornell Institute will continue through next July, and I will participate in the second phase of trustee training in February.

More recently, I participated as a panelist in a day-long meeting of the New York Choral Consortium, taking on my ambassadorial function. The event took place at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine and was hosted by Local 802 member Kent Tritle, whose long resume includes being the director of music there. I was pleased to participate in one of four panels, mine being dedicated to union interaction and participation with local choral performance and practice. I was joined by choral contractor Margery Daley and by Local 802 contractor Arthur Fiacco. More than forty New York area choral directors attended. I saw some familiar faces and met some of the people behind the scenes of familiar choral groups.

The members of the New York Choral Consortium have concerns that are familiar to many smaller orchestral nonprofits. What are the artistic goals of choruses? How can they fund those goals? How can they interact with the professional unions (including Local 802 and the singers’ own union AGMA)? Are the costs of professionals too high to be sustainable? How can various forms of digital media enhance or promote their organization?

All of these are pertinent questions that we all face. The most striking answer came from the “employer” side of this panel – Kent and Arthur. Bear in mind that Local 802 had just ushered Arthur and the New York Archdiocese through the recent visit of Pope Francis. The Local 802 staff (most notably David Sheldon and Marisa Friedman) had worked through all live performances and media contracts to make sure that all musicians who played services during the papal visit were covered by a union contact. We worked with Arthur, St. Patrick’s Cathedral, cable companies and even the Vatican in order to make it all union. Therefore, Arthur and others on the panel were able to tell the audience of choir directors that the Local 802 staff would walk them through any situation. Anytime a chorus wants to use live musicians under a union contract, we can make it happen – from a church basement concert up to a papal visit!

Instrumentalists and singers rehearse for Pope Francis' mass, which took place on Sept. 25 at Madison Square Garden. The services were covered under a union contract.

Instrumentalists and singers rehearse for Pope Francis’ mass, which took place on Sept. 25 at Madison Square Garden. The services were covered under a union contract.

The second striking point was the panel’s assertion that it pays to call the union early in a project’s development. If choir directors will consult with Local 802 and AGMA at the beginning of a project, it will ensure the highest artistic presentation.

Lastly, using union contracts was framed not just as a culture of professionalism and artistic excellence but also a matter of social justice. Highly valued artistic competence should not be a cost-free commodity. Heady stuff, indeed! Heavy applause ensued. I can only hope that all of this can serve as a model of what’s to come: choirs, dance troupes and all presenters of art using live music under a union contract. Maybe that could be a resolution for 2016.

On a different note, remember that the current Local 802 administration will show some changes going forward. All of us who ran for office were unopposed. We are all extremely gratified by that show of support. The only change among the top three officers is that John O’Connor, our recording vice president since 2010, will be retiring at the end of this term. We welcome Andy Schwartz, who will replace John starting in January.

We all wish to congratulate John on his years of dedicated service to the Local. We acknowledge his deep knowledge and passion for his work, including his notable efforts in the Justice for Jazz Artists campaign. We salute his tireless efforts on behalf of Local 802 members and also the larger labor movement. We wish him the best luck in future endeavors and will always value his dedication and service to Local 802 and its members. John, may the road rise to meet your feet!

Finally: Happy New Year to all. Let’s have a healthy, happy, and prosperous 2016.