The Musicians’ Voice

Volume CV, No. 6June, 2005


To the Editor:

Bravo to Joan Acocella for going out of her way to extol the virtues of live music in her dance column in the New Yorker issue of May 9, 2005. After favorably reviewing three recent dance concerts by the Martha Graham Dance Company, Mark Morris Dance Group and the Nrityagram Dance Ensemble, she ends her column this way:

“One thing that united all these performances was live music. The Graham company had an orchestra of 28; the Morris troupe, six instrumentalists and eight singers; Nrityagram, three instrumentalists and a vocalist. In these days of near-zero public funding for dance, one assumes that the companies more or less killed themselves to raise that money, and the result made all the difference in the world. Dance audiences, I believe, have now got used to taped music, and you can get used to it, the same way you can learn to eat Spam instead of ham, or breathe smog instead of air. Your life is just diminished, and you don’t realize it until you see concerts such as we saw last month.”

—Harry Hassell


To the Editor:

Thanks for your Social Security coverage in last month’s Allegro. There’s a wonderful thing about Social Security for musicians. We work in a field where, even though we may have artistic satisfaction, most of us don’t make a lot of money. We hope to hit it big. But if we don’t, we could always count on a Social Security pension be it ever so modest.

Bush is proposing that individual citizens be encouraged to risk a portion of what would have been their own payroll Social Security tax. This individual’s portion would be withdrawn from the nation’s fund set up to protect all citizens, thus weakening the institution of Social Security, and requiring rewriting the Social Security law.

Of course the wealthy, for whom a Social Security pension is just an insignificant part of their retirement income, would have some bit of extra money to invest and play with. And privatization would encourage irresponsible gamblers — those not caring about their old age — some of whom, without their Social Security safety net, would eventually wind up as a burden on society in some other way.

Our greatest billionaires, Bill Gates and Warren Buffet, know that their incredible wealth is only possible within America’s healthy infrastructure. They know that the Social Security system is a type of enforced social accountability for one’s nation and neighbors. They don’t begrudge their Social Security tax contribution and would gladly have the Social Security tax cap on their income above $90,000 removed.

In fact, raising the cap would solve Social Security’s problem while enriching and strengthening the fund!

The corporate media refuses to discuss this. Instead, they spread misrepresentations and lies about the supposed bankruptcy of Social Security and ignore the fact that the system is basically healthy and will be for decades to come.

—Henry Nowak


To the Editor:

I have been dismayed by the decision of our union to support the building of a West Side stadium ever since that decision was reached without any kind of member input over a year ago.

I feel it is important that members who strongly oppose the plan be represented in Allegro. All we ever read about is how our union is on the side of:

  • Providing jobs. (For who? Construction workers who live in the outer boroughs, who will not have to deal with the crippling congestion the new stadium will bring to an area already chronically afflicted with gridlock and pollution.)
  • Affordable housing. (There is no affordable housing plan in New York City. All there is is a plan called the 80/20 program, which gives developers huge tax breaks for setting aside 20 percent of their newly developed properties for “below median” income residents. The small number of units this creates and the huge numbers of people applying for them — if they can find out about them — is more like a lottery than anything else.)
  • The Jets’s support of music in the schools. (If the Jets feel so strongly about supporting music in the schools, why haven’t they ever done that in the past, and why the quid pro quo?)

In Heather Beaudoin’s Legislative Update last month she cites Madison Square Garden as the main opponent of the stadium. But there is huge community opposition as well. The misguided, criminal way in which the plan is being foisted on the community it most affects is something I feel members of our union are entitled to know about.

To balance out the shamefully one-sided reporting in Allegro, I encourage readers to contact the Hell’s Kitchen/Hudson Yards Alliance at (212) 629-1760 or or

—Jeff Schiller

President Lennon Responds:

The Local 802 Executive Board voted unanimously to join the Hudson Yards Coalition only after much discussion and debate. Positions on public policy, as well as political endorsements, are appropriately addressed in that forum — through your elected leadership.

While it is always our goal to make such decisions in the best interests of our collective membership, it is to be assumed that virtually no decision we make will ever be met with unanimous approval, i.e., our endorsement of John Kerry in the 2004 national election.

If each and every endorsement were put to a membership-wide vote, in all practicality we could never endorse anyone or anything.

It would, however, be no more appropriate to bash the New York Sports and Convention Center, after having endorsed it, than it would be to run anti-Kerry articles after endorsing him.

Shamefully one-sided reporting? Hardly. Allegro is an advocacy paper. Allegro has, however, certainly maintained a liberal policy of allowing our members a forum to express their views, in columns such as this and “The Beat On The Street.”

As to the reader’s dismal forecast in regard to affordable housing, I would direct him to the March edition of Allegro that features praise from both the mayor and City Councilmember Christine Quinn (an opponent of the stadium) for Local 802’s efforts in chairing the Hudson Yards Affordable Housing Committee, which comprised the largest and broadest collective of labor unions, whose efforts led to significant improvements in the affordable housing component of the plan.

Lastly, the NYSCS will be a boon to tourism. Our capacity to host world-class conventions and events will provide far more than just construction jobs. It will provide jobs for hotel workers, restaurant workers, and — musicians. More hotels, more conventions and more tourists equals more audience members!