Reflections and Farewell

Volume CVII, No. 1January, 2007

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David Lennon and Mayor Bloomberg in Times Square in 2005. Photo by Claire Houston.

David Lennon leaves office on Dec. 31. On the eve of his departure, Allegro posed some questions to 802’s outgoing president.

Allegro: In your opinion, what was your greatest accomplishment during your term?

David Lennon: In March 2003, we all witnessed the darkest week in Local 802 history when virtual orchestra machine makers armed Broadway producers with their technology to threaten the replacement of live orchestras.

When I took office in 2004, I realized that our fight against the virtual orchestra machine was far from over – it had only just begun. I made a strategic decision to throw the first punch. That is, I did not wait for virtual orchestra machines to come back to us – I went after them. From day one of my administration I set a zero tolerance policy against the virtual orchestra machine and launched a proactive and aggressive fight against the machine.

As a result, we accomplished what many believed to be impossible – achieving contracts that expressly ban the use of virtual orchestra machines.

Since then, 802 has achieved more than 50 contracts banning the virtual orchestra machine, including Off Broadway, freelance orchestras, Lincoln Center theatres and the American Ballet Theatre. My stance on this issue emboldened locals across the country to join the fight against the virtual orchestra machine, resulting in a ban at the Kennedy Center.

To those who claim our campaign against the virtual orchestra machine has been “meaningless,” I say if that were the case virtual orchestra machine makers would not have taken the time or trouble to invest thousands of dollars to engage the notoriously anti-union law firm of Akin, Gump, nor would they have challenged our contractual bans against the machine not once, but three times – all the way up to the federal National Labor Relations Board. In each and every legal battle, Local 802 prevailed – the courts upheld the legality of the ban against the virtual orchestra machine.

These victories would not have been possible if we had allowed ourselves to be discouraged by the prevalence of the virtual orchestra machine in cities elsewhere. They would not have been possible if we succumbed to such thinking as, “You can’t fight technology.”

In a recent New York Times interview, I was asked whether I believed technology was “evil.” I answered, “Technology in and of itself is not bad or ‘evil.’ We must recognize, however, when technology is being used for the wrong purposes.”

Conversely, another accomplishment of my administration involved the embracing of new technologies – the negotiation of an innovative new media deal at the Metropolitan Opera. As a result, Met musicians are now involved in an exciting and bold media initiative that has already caught the attention of orchestras worldwide. In addition to increasing the musicians’ compensation significantly, the Met is now able to expand its reach to audiences across the globe through new and developing technologies.

So, in answer to the question, I believe the greatest accomplishment of my administration was having understood when to fight technology and when to embrace it.

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David Lennon at a press conference outside the Variety Arts Theatre in 2004, announcing a ban on the V.O. machine. Photo by Walter Karling.

Allegro: What advice would you give the next administration?

DL: Listen to the membership. Trust the collective wisdom of the professional musicians you represent. To the extent you stay true to the rank-and-file and its elected committees, you will succeed.

Allegro: What are the biggest challenges facing Local 802 and the New York City music scene?

DL: I have often said I am most proud of what you can’t see in New York City – a virtual orchestra machine in any live performance venue. I made this issue a primary focus of my administration because virtual orchestra technology represents a frontal attack on live music. I believe it is critical for the professional musicians of Local 802 to carry on the fight to protect and promote that which they have devoted their lives to – the art of live musical performance.

Allegro: What are your parting words to the members?

DL: The time has come for me to pass the baton. It has been my privilege to serve you as your president over these past three years, and as your colleague and advocate since I came to Local 802 almost eight years ago. We accomplished many great things together and I wish you and the new administration the best of luck going forward.

Always remember that you are the stakeholders of Local 802. The empowerment of the rank-and-file lies within the Local 802 bylaws and through the voice of your rank-and-file committees. The future of your livelihoods is in your hands. Stay involved and fight the good fight. I will be watching from afar with great admiration, respect and affection.