The Musicians’ Voice

Volume CVII, No. 9September, 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


This letter concerns the article “Are We Amateurs or Professionals?” in the June issue.

To the Editor:

I found this article particularly infuriating. It confirmed what I already believed, which is this.

The union really only helps two kinds of musicians:

1. Those who already have union jobs.

2. Those who are playing nonunion jobs but are working for employers who could otherwise pay more.

But what about the rest of us?

I’m a flutist. I find my own gigs. I’m successful, more and more. But I have been an 802 member for eight years and have yet to play a union gig here in New York.

The union must reach out to those of us who are forced to accept nonunion jobs where the employer simply can’t afford scale.

For instance:

  • The wedding couple who only has a budget of $500 for music.
  • The restaurant owner who is struggling.
  • The club that pays the musicians the door.
  • The nursing home that has a tiny budget.

If I called 802 to organize any of these jobs for me, I could lose the job altogether.

Local 802 should change course. The union should help musicians find jobs and help businesses create jobs for musicians.

What about lobbying for tax deductions for businesses when they hire musicians?

If 802 did become more of an aggressive hiring agency, then the union should be more strict about membership — like auditioning musicians who want to join.

In short: Local 802 must pay attention to those of us who don’t play Broadway, aren’t working studio musicians, don’t work for an established club date agency, and aren’t in one of the dozen or so union freelance orchestras. Let’s find jobs — or help create them. Afterwards, let’s make them union.

–Michele Smith


To the Editor:

Ah, Labor Day! The paid holiday, the outdoor barbecues and brewskis. But what about our Labor Day next year? And the ones after that?

The benefits we now enjoy from our union came from hard-won demands, from strength and unity. They were achieved in the 20th century with muscle and hardball collective bargaining. We don’t want to give these up. Nor should we.

But in the 21st century, a new world order has emerged. Our industry hasn’t yet felt the full impact of a digital landscape and an emerging global economy. But we undeniably shall. How shall we meet those challenges?

By being relevant. The battle for the relevance of our union will ultimately be won in the hearts and minds of the American people. And recent public demonstrations — or the notable lack thereof — are compelling evidence of the loss of their effectiveness as rallying cries.

In the coming years, picketing and public displays of acrimony may become outmoded, ineffectual tools of protest.

So how shall we respond? Appropriately, I hope.

We don’t have the answers yet, but here’s something to ponder this holiday.

I’d like to imagine an evolved union, one that will take us into the 21st century employing cutting-edge tactics. This union will be leaner, meaner, swifter, more efficient, more strategic, and poised to meet the challenges of a smaller and more immediate world.

I want to be proud of my union because it is smart and agile, not embarrassed for it as it marches to the future outfitted with archaic artillery and ill-prepared soldiers.

I don’t think we’ve lost our will, but I do believe we may have lost our way.

With eyes wide open this Labor Day, we need to look clearly and fearlessly into the future, and, together, discover our better path.

–Gordon Harrell


To the Editor:

I want to express my gratitude to Larry Rawdon for his dedicated and brilliant service as the chair of the Broadway Theatre Committee for almost two decades. His leadership, knowledge, experience and insight will be sorely missed.

Larry had a true knack for maintaining order and keeping discussions moving and on topic.

His parting remarks included a welcome reminder of the value of this rank-and-file committee in representing our membership and its importance as a significant part of the “checks and balances” that are essential for 802 to serve us as best as possible. This was particularly helpful for some of our newer delegates.

Working with Larry often mean being dazzled by the keenness of his thinking. He could recognize subtleties and pitfalls clearly before others and brought to our attention potential ramifications that were not readily apparent to the rest of us.

I clearly recall his early warnings regarding our most recent Special Situations language. At the time, it was hard to comprehend how disastrous Special Situations would turn out to be.

With little support, he remained adamant, and was sadly far ahead of the pack — and dead on target.

This is but one tiny example of his great intelligence and foresight that in this instance bordered on precognition.

Though he is no longer the chair, I certainly hope he will remain a valuable presence at our meetings. He is and will be a tremendous asset.

Recently, Larry fell ill with a serious medical condition. But in spite of it, he continued to work on our behalf even when he was in the hospital.

I feel so privileged to have worked with him. A simple “thank you” is woefully inadequate to express the gratitude we owe him. He has truly led by example.

–Marshall Coid


The following letter was originally a response to Allegro’s question of the month, which can be found in this issue’s “Beat on the Street”. We asked the writer if we could run it as a letter to the editor. This letter responds to the basic question, “Are musicians workers or artists?”

To the Editor:

Every artist is a worker above all. I think of myself as an artist first. I work for my art.

I care deeply about the labor movement and the role of the unions. The breaking of the power of unions since the Reagan administration has been a disaster for our democracy, for our society, and for our economy.

I wish that I could say that my art and my work have been supported by a strong musicians’ union but that is not the case.

When I lived in Chicago, prominent contractors called me to play gigs for which they had not filed contracts. These contractors were often members of the Lyric Opera Orchestra who had all of the advantages of the contracts that the union had negotiated for them. The Chicago AFM local (10-208) did not discipline them for working below union scale without contracts. driving down wages.

The AFM virtually destroyed the U.S. classical recording industry, setting exorbitant rates, driving work to Europe.

Local 802 has not had the clout to keep orchestras in theatres (a recent performance by the Comedie Française was accompanied by recorded music), while the stagehands’ union has managed to keep its members working even in productions where they are not needed.

Since coming to New York City I have learned that the union has prohibited a newly formed period-instruments orchestra from holding auditions, ensuring that its personnel will be chosen not by the conductor on the basis of merit, but by a contractor motivated by entrenched self- interest. Given that I am new to the city this disadvantages me, a dues-paying member.

I continue to be a member of the union on principle, but that principled stand feels sillier every day.

–John Mark Rozendaal


To the Editor:

I was very impressed by Gabriel Banat’s article about the Afro-French composer Le Chevalier de Saint-Georges.

(The article appeared in Allegro’s February 2007 Black History Month issue, which I read on the Web site of the International Labor Communications Association.)

Banat’s book, “The Chevalier de Saint-Georges: Virtuoso of the Sword and the Bow,” is one of the principal authorities for the biographical essay on Saint-Georges at my Web site,

But none of the dozens of recordings of the music of Saint-Georges prepared me for the June release of a new CD: “Monsieur de Saint-George: 4 Concertos pour violon,” by Les Archets de Paris (Calliope, 2007).

The cover of that CD depicts Saint-Georges in a bizarre red outfit covered with white polka dots!

The white people in the scene are dressed normally.

Contemporary portraits of the composer show him impeccably dressed in the finery of an 18th century aristocrat.

I wrote to Harmonia Mundi USA, the U.S. distributor for Calliope, and respectfully requested a change in the cover art.

I explained that it brought to mind demeaning images of black performers in the minstrel era. Other people wrote to the distributor in a similar vein.

Next I launched a blog at

My first post was called “Black Composer In Polka Dots.”

I later received a lengthy reply on behalf of Calliope by Alain Guédé, with no mention of the minstrel issue.

Monsieur Guédé wrote that “the cover is the work of two great artists,” and added “We want to give classical music in France a younger image.”

Those who perform and listen to classical music must make clear to record labels that racism has no place on classical CD covers.

–William J. Zick