New Year’s Resolutions for Musicians – and the Union

Financial Vice President's Report

Volume 114, No. 12December, 2014

Tom Olcott

As another year ends and a new year begins, it’s a good time to reflect on our goals for 2015 and beyond. Here’s my list.

1. Let’s fight for live music

Trombonist Tom Olcott is the Recording Vice President of Local 802 and the supervisor of the union's concert department.

Trombonist Tom Olcott is the Recording Vice President of Local 802 and the supervisor of the union’s concert department.

How good are you at advocating for live music? Are you doing everything possible? Are you a member of a synagogue or church that could produce more live music? Do you belong to any kind of community group or club that can sponsor a live performance? If you live outside of the city, does your local chamber of commerce sponsor live music – like a Hanukkah or Christmas concert, indoors or outdoors? Are there public bandshells or community spaces where live music could be staged?

We have to continually create a demand for live performance. With individual perseverance, bolstered by the support of Local 802, we can make community outreach an important addition to Local 802’s mission, and by doing so, we can help make communities more economically and culturally viable. If this effort were successful, it would mean more work for all. We should all strive for a more vital concert environment, and more diverse and more engaged audiences. We can look for employment opportunities in unlikely places. We can look for new audiences in familiar locations. We can work together to explore those opportunities. Local 802 will be a willing partner if any member seeks these new directions. The union can help you make connections. You just have to let us know how we can help. Call my office for more information. Think outside of the box!

2. Play for what you deserve!

I invite all classical chamber musicians to come to my office and discuss ways to structure your employment so that health and pension contributions might become a regular part of your compensation. Whether you are the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center or a cutting-edge cooperative ensemble, we are here to assist you in earning the wages and benefits you deserve. I also invite all younger musicians to visit my office whenever you get called for a job that pays poorly. Often, a conductor will tell you that a job is an “opportunity” that will lead to bigger and better things. But somehow you end up playing for $100 (or you play a recording session for free) and the bigger and better things never materialize. If and when you talk to us, you can be assured of confidentiality and that your concerns regarding your employment will be pursued as far as you want. If you contact us, there is a much stronger chance that you will earn reasonable compensation than if you choose to accept your status quo. As a union, we are strong when we are united. If you agree to play for peanuts, you drag other musicians’ wages down as well. This is a race to the bottom. Let’s not become our own worst enemies. Always remind yourselves that you are the union, and that the staff is here to help, not hinder, your career. We truly want the best for you!

3. Taking care of business

Local 802 needs to keep a closer watch on the board members and administrators of our orchestras and ensembles. We have to demand that orchestra board members do the necessary work to keep an ensemble vital and strong. And we will help by encouraging musicians’ participation in fundraising activities.

Dancers in the Paul Taylor Dance Company will now be dancing to live music again. This victory was one of Local 802's bright spots in 2014. Photo: Paul B. Goode

Dancers in the Paul Taylor Dance Company will now be dancing to live music again. This victory was one of Local 802’s bright spots in 2014. Photo: Paul B. Goode

4. When live music wins, we all win

Finally, let’s remember one of our biggest victories in 2014. After years of dialogue with Local 802, the Paul Taylor Dance Company will now present its next Lincoln Center season with live music, after not having live music for many years. We must give credit to the company itself, which reflects a responsible blend of artistry and professionalism. I applaud the Paul Taylor Company and hope that other dance companies will come to the same outcome. The classic dance and ballet repertoire was based on live music. Live music and live dance go together. Local 802 is every dance company’s potential artistic partner. Other dance companies, please take note.

Finally, for our New Year’s resolutions:

For musicians, let us all make our glorious art a part of every New York community.

For those who are on the business end of music – the board members and administrators of ensembles and orchestras – Local 802 is not your enemy. Call us.

For skeptics, let us prove to you that the union is more than willing to help navigate new approaches as we all adapt to a constantly shifting marketplace. No matter what, music and creativity will always thrive. The trick is to be economically viable, while making sure that the art continues to sing.

Best New Year’s wishes to all beloved friends, colleagues and the members of Local 802.