The Musicians’ Voice

Volume CII, No. 5May, 2002


To the Editor:

I have been a full-time working pianist in New York City hotels for over 20 years now and have never come close to cracking the Broadway pit scene. I have worked with cabaret artists and accompanied thousands of Broadway-type singers at auditions, so believe me, I know the repertoire and the style. But then you go about trying to contact the Broadway contractors and they just don’t respond. Ever! I have been told that you have to pay your dues by subbing here and subbing there, until you’re blue in the face. But I’m 45 years old now. Should a professional pianist my age have to pound the pavement for a night here and a night there? And believe me, I have connections in the business and I still can’t get a callback, an audition or a returned phone call. If you think the odds are stacked against you as an actor, don’t even think about a Broadway pit job.

–Richard Atkins


To the Editor:

The fall 2001 Members Newsletter offers a well-formulated outline of a successful public relations strategy, reflecting information taught in the Cornell media seminars (and also found in the July 2000 Counterpoint Notes issue on publicity). But is Local 802 implementing this strategy? We’ve heard the radio spots and seen the Playbill ads, but as the Members Newsletter says, “Paid ads . . . cannot really replace timely press releases and good relations with media people.” We must “cultivate relationships with key reporters,” and “obviously, the more prominent a potential interviewee or a letter writer is, the better the chances for publication.”

But we have seen no evidence that our PR department or our administration has established a routine for building relationships with reporters outside the legislative field. We have not yet begun promoting musicians’ issues through regular statements to the media by President Moriarity or other distinguished Local 802 members. Reporters mention our issues every day – from music quality, to union demands, to theatrical smoke. What would it take to pick one article each week and send a brief response, signed by the president, that would help build a perception of our union’s concerns?

Perhaps there is some misunderstanding in the Members Party about its newsletter’s recommendations. When I suggested, for example, that our PR department write to New York Times critic Ben Brantley, the administration’s response was, “He’s not our friend.”

When news articles mention musicians’ salaries, orchestras’ budgetary health, outstanding performers, tourism, EPA air quality alerts, asthma, etc., there is no excuse for a PR department guided by the excellent ideas found in the Members Newsletter not to have a routine of response in place.

–Evan Johnson

P.R. Director Heather Beaudoin replies:

The Public Relations Department has developed several relationships with major publications including the New York Times, the Daily News, Newsday, Backstage, Variety and local community papers. Conversations between reporters and Local 802 take place on a regular basis.

As you are aware, Local 802 has been negotiating several contracts in the freelance orchestra field for the last six months. In response to your point about the union not seeking press on the salary of musicians or the budgetary health of orchestras: typically, if negotiations are moving forward with management, it is not wise for a union to negotiate a contract in the press. For example, the press continually called us for comment regarding the Brooklyn Philharmonic. Local 802 only decided to publicly speak out about negotiations after they had halted. This resulted in coverage of 802’s position in the New York Times (“Lights Down, But Not Out,” Jan. 25, 2002) and in the Brooklyn Eagle.

Local 802 has also reached out to the press on several occasions to promote musicians. Just recently, the New York Times featured 802 musicians who have been with the Broadway show Les Miserables since it opened on March 3, 1987. New York Magazine is now working on an article on the life of a Broadway musician, and the Village Voice is working with Local 802 on an article pertaining to organizing musicians.

In response to your comment on Ben Brantley, it has not been productive for Local 802 to attempt, in any way, to influence critics’ thinking, especially on labor issues.

I don’t know what role Local 802 could play in the press on the subject of recent EPA air quality alerts, since these have been focusing on the hazards faced by Ground Zero workers and Battery Park City residents. I do agree with you that asthma, especially in light of the smoke and fog issue on Broadway, is an avenue that the PR Department can pursue. Please feel free to call me at Local 802 so we can work on this together.