Spreading the union’s message at music school

Recording Vice President's report

Volume 123, No. 2February, 2023

Harvey Mars

Recording Vice President Harvey Mars with Local 802 member Colin Williams, the associate principal trombonist of the New York Philharmonic

One reason why I love serving as a Local 802 officer is that I’m a lifelong musician myself. I recently earned a Master of Music degree in trombone performance and am currently enrolled in a professional performance degree program at a major conservatory. Why am I still a student, at the ripe age of 62? Of course I want to constantly improve my musicianship — and I have. However, being a student also provides me with the opportunity to interact with future professional musicians and future union members on a peer-to-peer basis. I see myself in the role of union emissary as well as music student. Through this role, I hope to help music students see that the union is an approachable, meaningful, and useful entity in their professional lives. Of course, this is not meant to be a replacement for union outreach to music schools and students, but it certainly enhances and supplements this effort.

Two recent anecdotes come to mind with respect to union concepts that were raised by music students in an educational setting. The first occurred in the context of a large ensemble orientation meeting. One ensemble member pointed out that there had been many scheduling errors in a previous opera performance cycle. The outcome was that musicians were required to remain in rehearsal for several hours without a break, even though they weren’t required to perform. (These scheduling issues are being resolved.) Someone said that if there were a union agreement in place, this wouldn’t have occurred. It was meant as a joke since we were unpaid students in a school setting. But many took it seriously.

I pointed out that this is the very reason why union contracts are necessary in the professional arena. Had this happened in a professional orchestra, a grievance would surely have ensued. One interesting fact is that a large portion of the orientation for my class involved a discussion concerning rehearsal and performance punctuality and attendance requirements, which are foundational elements of any professional musician’s career. If a musician is incapable of being on time, there is no prospect that they will have a career, regardless of how well they may perform. Nonetheless, equal time could be spent reviewing reasonable expectations of orchestra management. While attendance and punctuality are critical to a performer’s career, so is understanding of proper scheduling timeframes and the reasonable allocation of break, rehearsal, and performance time. In all fairness, these concepts are covered in the student handbook. They would, of course, be incorporated into a collective bargaining agreement, had this been a professional union engagement.

The second situation occurred during a seminar I attended that was conducted by Local 802 member Colin Williams, the associate principal trombonist of the New York Philharmonic. Several trombonists — mostly graduate students, along with several professionals — attended this seminar. It truly was a memorable experience, both with respect to the level of performance as well as the comradery amongst participants. At the end of the seminar there was a question-and-answer forum. One of the topics was possible employment issues that might happen either before or after an audition was won. I, as well as Colin, quickly pointed out that before any audition is applied for, the applicant should ascertain whether there is a union contract covering that orchestra. The need for the applicant to become familiar with that contract as well as the union officials who administer that contract was pointed out as well. All music students who desire a career as a professional musician should be aware that there is no major orchestra in this country that does not have a collective bargaining agreement with an AFM local. I am glad to say that this topic was an important component of this seminar that was tailored to future orchestral musicians.

I am also happy to say that my music studies are continuing and will continue for as long as there are individuals willing to teach me. I view these studies as an important feature of my representational functions as a union officer. It also doesn’t hurt that I am also pursuing something that I deeply love doing, though I have not made it my profession.


I am pleased to report that seven thousand of our brothers and sisters at the New York State Nurses Association successfully struck two of New York City’s hospitals and achieved significant working condition improvements and compensation increases. The contracts that were achieved as a result of this three-day strike have now been ratified by the bargaining unit. This proves once again that the strike is still a vital component of the tools that organized labor can utilize against intransigent management bargaining tactics. More details about the strike can be found in this article from the New York Times.