The Musicians’ Voice
Volume CVII, No. 12December, 2007
The Musicians’ Voice is an open forum for discussion about the state of union affairs. The letters published here do not necessarily express the views of Local 802. Letters must be 300 words or less. Send them to Allegro, c/o Local 802, 322 West 48th Street, New York, NY 10036, or e-mail Mikael Elsila, the editor, at Melsila@Local802afm.org.
To the Editor:
My close friend, Bernie Berger, was the complete musician. He was a splendid flutist, clarinetist, saxophonist on all of the saxes, a talented pianist, writer and player of the classics and jazz. The music world has been left with a large pair of empty shoes.
I was fortunate enough to have worked with Bernie for two years in “No No Nanette” and every show was a pleasure. I shall never forget him.
(Editor’s note: Bernie Berger, 76, an honor member of Local 802 who joined the union in 1957, died on July 25, 2007.)
RE: “IS IT TIME FOR A NEW PARADIGM?”
To the Editor:
I want to thank President Mary Landolfi for her insightful president’s report in the November issue of Allegro. I agree with Mary’s idea of partnering with employers on some aspects of negotiation.
As our protection against the vicissitudes of the music business, the union will indeed become “irrelevant” without “a new paradigm” and this would be a tragic outcome for working musicians.
The challenge for union negotiators is relaxing the legalistic, oppositional mind and responding with a new mind to the conditions presented by the reality at the table, where the major labels, media conglomerates and booking monopolies are themselves “scrambling to find a business model” in a ruthless and ever-changing international corporate environment.
I’m grateful that I helped to negotiate the 802 contract under which I earn a decent hourly wage plus benefits including health care and pension contribution at the New School University where I have taught in the jazz program for 20 years as an adjunct professor.
I learned a lot by participating in the fray. While some negotiation issues were difficult, to be sure, on certain items a more cooperative, less confrontational approach yielded more fruitful results for both sides.
This experience taught me that there is a time to put up your guard and a time to let it down, and knowing which is which requires wisdom and patience.
I think Mary has it right.
One more thing: Few artists can support themselves today on performing income and record royalties alone. Artists in many fields choose teaching as a dignified alternative to playing (or worse) on the street. There is no ignominy in your grandfather’s “right livelihood,” Mary, that helped nurture a granddaughter whose worth is infinitely more valuable than all the gigs Paul Whiteman might have offered him!
Mary Landolfi replies: The writer is correct that there are many honorable ways to augment one’s living as a musician and teaching — or becoming a skilled repairperson — is among them. My comments were not meant to be derogatory toward those who have to be creative in order to sustain themselves in the face of changes in our profession; I have always thought that we are most successful when we make the best of the hand that has been dealt to us. Instead, I was attempting to reflect my grandfather’s perspective as the first wave of technology, without warning, greatly limited the horizons available to him and others in our profession.
RE: “HEAR MY VOICE”
To the Editor:
Having spent some years living in Israel, I read last month’s article “Hear my Voice: Peace through music in Palestine and Israel” with great interest.
From the title, I expected a description of the author’s efforts to unite Israelis and Palestinians through music (a worthy endeavor).
Instead, I was dismayed to find that the article presented a one-sided view of this complicated conflict and, in my opinion, portrayed Israel and its policies in a biased manner.
The author’s sympathies for the Palestinians are understandable, but they do not warrant the half-truths and prejudices presented. My main thought was, “This sounds like anti-Israel propaganda and does not belong in this paper!”
I lived in Israel during the height of the second intifada and experienced the horrible effects of relentless terrorist attacks.
The Israeli checkpoints, roadblocks and concrete walls that the author describes are a response to the violence and have proven to be effective tools in containing it. Due to these measures, the number of incidents has been dramatically reduced.
If, as the author writes, “Palestinians speak openly of wanting to live in peace with Israelis,” I wonder when that will be translated into positive political initiatives and earnest attempts to stop anti-Israeli aggression, indoctrination and propaganda.
I believe that the majority of Israelis would be willing to accept a peaceful Palestinian state as their neighbor and that many Palestinians would rather live in peace and enjoy a better quality of life.
I support any meaningful attempt to bring the two peoples together, music being an ideal vehicle. The late saxophonist Arnie Lawrence spent his last years trying to do just that.
Unfortunately, nothing in the article leads me to believe that the author accomplished her stated aims, and makes me wonder what her actual motives were.
RE: “SMOKE AND FOG ON BROADWAY”
To the Editor:
The November issue of Allegro featured a story about smoke and fog effects on Broadway. Upon reading it I could not but help think how little we have gone forward with this issue. I did the run of the original “Les Miz” and it really sounds like we are back at square one.
I realize that the union administration has changed, but isn’t there a thick folder laying around with some past understandings or agreements with the League about the subject?
When we were dealing with this issue then, I sat in on one of the meetings with the producers. It was clear to me then that they were not really addressing the issue seriously. Any scientific data we presented was rejected. “Since when have you all turned into scientists?” they asked us, with a sneer.
I think it’s time to hire the proper professionals to help us in this matter. It is very difficult to document a direct cause and effect between health issues and the chemicals used, but any musician in a long-running show can feel the impact.
I understand the need to maintain good relations with the producers, but this has been going on way too long.
RE: STAGEHANDS’ STRIKE
To the Editor:
One of the issues in the stagehands’ strike is that the producers want to mandate how many stagehands should be hired. Executives want to dictate policy in areas where they have little or no hands-on experience. This brings to mind the American automobile industry of the 1970’s. It was during this time that automakers opted to hire M.B.A.’s for their executive positions, as opposed to promoting people up from the assembly lines. Result? Cars that needed to have the engine lifted from the block to change the oil filter, a resistance to fuel efficient design, and a significant loss of market share over the past three decades.
In Local 802’s negotiations with the League in 2003, the producers also requested “artistic input.” For us, it resulted in lost jobs. Brass and string sections have all but disappeared from the Broadway orchestras.
The producers’ demands, if carried out, will also compromise the safety of all those who work within the theatres themselves.
I have had numerous experiences with union stagehands both on Broadway and on tour. I have witnessed the miraculous accomplishments these craftsmen attain under unbelievably tight time constraints. I, for one, see them as the first and last line of defense when it come to averting potential disaster. I would prefer not to work on a set that was installed by an overworked, understaffed crew. (I doubt the members of the League would be requesting these job cuts if they affected the maintenance crew who services their private jets!)
So, once again, isn’t this about the producers’ need to satisfy their apparently insatiable desire for profit and more profit?
ONE LOCAL 802
To the Editor:
As all elections are a heated battle, this past 802 election for president was no different. I am troubled though, at what seems to me to be a growing division between our members.
Regardless of who people voted for, we now have “one” president and I hope still only “one” Local 802.
I say “one Local 802” because now that the election is over, I still receive e-mails from both the Concerned Musicians Party and the Members Party, which do not seem to be in agreement with each other.
Do we now have two distinct factions in this local? I certainly hope not.
We have a hard enough time coming to agreements with management.
I have a friend who told me that years ago (he thought it was 1947; I didn’t research it to find out, though) the Hollywood musicians attempted to start a musicians’ guild for recording musicians on films so they could negotiate different contracts from the rank-and-file members of the AFM.
I don’t think I’m inflating my perception by saying that I see our local doing the beginnings of a similar thing right now.
People seem not to have left their differences aside or moved on after the election.
Maybe I’m wrong and I certainly hope so, but I would encourage us all to try to see the middle ground and cooperate with our fellow 802 members to continue to have one Local 802, not two.