The Diversity Committee of Local 802 was recently formed and I have the honor of being its chair. In a union that represents all types of musicians, the committee is devoted to support the already diverse membership of Local 802 and to foster a music community where all voices are heard and given the opportunity to do so.
Issues on diversity and representation are very important to me. Those closest to me have discouraged me from pursuing a career in music and especially musical theatre (my main area of music) because there aren’t many who look like me in the business. I actually listened to those people when entering college, but the music and theatre bug still bit me: I graduated with a BFA in musical theatre from Emerson College and got music directing gigs straight out of school. And here I am today, a proud Local 802 member and a working musician in New York City.
Those who discouraged me weren’t wrong, though. We live in the era of #OscarsSoWhite, #GrammysSoMale, and, of course, #MeToo. Most people in the music industry and show business don’t look like me, a first-generation Filipino American. And this applies to many “me”s: musicians of color, female musicians, musicians with disabilities, LGBTQ musicians (the list goes on). How many times has the ethnic makeup of the pit orchestra matched the specific ethnic needs of the onstage cast? How often do we see equal gender representation in symphony orchestras and jazz ensembles? How many in-demand conductors, music directors, and bandleaders are female or POCs?
Diversity is an extremely positive thing. Some might think it will lead to exclusion, but it’s actually the opposite: diversity promotes inclusion. We want the invitation to play, the offer to jam, the chance to musically tell stories already being told onstage by actors and dancers who are like us. One thing every member in our union shares is the fact that at one point, someone took a chance on them. Someone offered a one-night gig to a NYC newcomer; a chair holder in a Broadway show took a chance on someone they didn’t know because a sub slot opened up; an opportunity to tour was given to someone an old college professor highly recommended. The specifics might differ, but we all got to where we are because someone took a chance on us. And that is something we can all do: open up our minds and circle of musicians and take a chance on someone who’s different than we are. It sounds simple, but it will help promote more diverse voices being heard within our music community, and we might even learn something by listening to what they have to offer. There are female musicians and musicians of color who proficiently play all genres and all instruments; they just need to be given the opportunity.
Although the Diversity Committee is still new, we are ready to make an impact. I was lovingly roped into the committee by Off Broadway business rep Marlena Fitzpatrick García, who is our committee’s staff liaison. Alvester Garnett serves as co-chair and board liaison. Marlena was passionate in bringing this committee to fruition because she recognized the underrepresentation of diverse artists across the board, having vast experience working with the Latinx community. The committee has had two lively meetings so far, where we’ve discussed trends we see in our respective fields, goals for the near and distant future, and ways we can help and educate our music community. We’re looking ahead to 802 membership events, partnerships with sister unions and other music institutions, and outreaches to schools and colleges to promote new diverse membership. I encourage anyone with ideas, opinions, or suggestions on diversity and inclusion to join our force. If we want our union to represent the rich diversity within the greater New York area, we all need to be heard. Please e-mail me at email@example.com or Marlena Fitzpatrick.