The Musicians Voice

Volume 112, No. 1January, 2012

The Musicians’ Voice is an open forum for discussion about the state of union affairs. The letters here do not necessarily express the views of Local 802. E-mail letters to or write to Allegro, Local 802, 322 West 48th Street, New York, NY 10036. Letters must be no more than 300 words.

Technique vs. musicality

Thanks for your article on technique vs. musicality in the last issue of Allegro. I tend to agree with what Hal Galper wrote. There is sometimes a fine line between whether a fast phrase is merely flashy playing or instead a sudden surge of inspiration. Could you always tell with Bird? If so, what’s the difference? His musicality always won out. Same with my old boss, Buddy Rich.

Technique should always be equal to the desire to play the music as you hear it. The more technique you have, the better you can express ideas. (This is only true if you possess a true sense of musicality in the first place. Otherwise you are just showing off your dexterity, like a fast typist.)

Obviously, good technique doesn’t equal musical talent or creativity. Did Monk have great technique? Of course. He played perfectly what he heard and wanted to play. Monk’s technique allowed him to be Monk. Just as Bill Evans’ technique did the same – and on and on. It is technique that allows your ideas to flow freely – and, hopefully, flow musically as well.

Bob Kaye

The article “technique vs. musicality” by Sue Terry was excellent. I’m glad you undertook a current exploration of the question. I’m sure many musicians resonate to the reality presented in the article and echoed by the respondents.

Even J.S. Bach dealt with this question in his own work. By inspection, it is fairly clear that Bach’s music makes strong demands on the player. Relative to his time, it’s even more striking to see how challenging his music is technically in comparison to other masters of his time. As a teacher, Bach stressed the necessity to grasp the Affekt of a work: what is its mood, what is it trying to convey? I have no doubt that Bach would have expected clean and clear execution but I don’t think he would have focused on it to the exclusion of making musical sense. That seems counter-intuitive. Let us all then take a hint from Papa Bach and try to get at the meaning of the music as best we can and practice as hard as we can to make all the notes come out right so that we do a responsible job in making a piece of music express its intrinsic meaning. What else should we musicians be doing?

David Close

Stealing hurts musicians

Like Longo’s article in last month’s Allegro about his personal encounter with “file stealing” was so current of the real issues that creative artists of all kinds face in this day and age.

Illegal file sharing (which is stealing) is a slow form of death to all art and the spirit in which it was conceived in the first place.

We write a song – or a book – and share it with the world. We hope it has a life span. We hope it will influence other artists or even the culture at large. Those are the artistic hurdles. Then there are the financial ones. We have the hurdles of critics, the hurdles of gigs, the hurdles of insecurity. Not to mention that we’re only earning pennies on each song when it’s sold for $0.99 on iTunes.

And now…what if those pennies are taken away from us altogether, and our work is pirated for free? That takes the air out of our tires. The momentum to create future art is destroyed.

It’s true that most of us didn’t set out in music to be famous. We enjoy playing. When we started getting our first gigs, we were excited that someone starting paying us for our skills. And we deserved it.

But now, we’re going backwards. Stealing is not free. Musicians find their music, images and words posted all over the Internet, without their permission. Myself included.

This makes us angry. The attitude among musicians becomes, “Well, if others are stealing my stuff, then I’ll just download whatever I need for free also, because I don’t have a gig.”

The problem with this response is that it doesn’t face the larger aspect of how cancer spreads and how might we as a culture address this.

Bob Magnuson

Local 802 and politics

The November issue of Allegro included a few letters from musicians who feel that Local 802 should stay out of outside politics. But unions and workers should always take the side of the oppressed, both in their own neighborhoods and around the world. That’s what unionism is about. If we only care about the issues that affect our particular members, we cease to be unionists and we become a club, with little relevance and no sense of community.

Besides, all locals of AFM are already involved in politics. The AFM is affiliated with the AFL-CIO, which, through its American Center for International Labor Solidarity, has had a continuing relationship with the National Endowment for Democracy, established under Ronald Reagan, and often in the news during political upheavals in other countries around the world.

And in any case, certain activities of the national government – not only those of our city and state – can affect the work of our local, just as they affect our lives individually. Doing and saying nothing is just as political as taking responsibility for the actions of those elected to govern us. Life is inescapably political for musicians as well as anyone else.

While serving in the 7th Army Symphony occupying post-Nazi Germany, I read of audience boycotts of pianist Walter Gieseking and conductor Wilhelm Furtwaengler because they had performed while Hitler invaded and occupied nations. I’m glad I’m pensioned and don’t have to worry about performing anymore for my own government, which itself has invaded and occupied so many nations, often with the blessing of “non political” religious leaders.

“Non political” can mean irresponsible or worse. I suggest we allow our elected union leadership to criticize and organize against obvious immoral and unjust activities of our government, whether city, state or federal.

Hank Nowak

A wonderful evening

I was happy to attend the Local 802 gala on Dec. 4. What an amazing event! The dinner and seeing everyone was great, but the show was just fantastic with so much variety. The evening meant so much to me because about 20 years ago when I was battling some personal issues that stood between me and my music, I got an tremendous amount of help and support from both MAP and the ERF as well as the Actors Fund. They are wonderful organizations with numerous resources that are there to help members in need. I was grateful to be able to be of support.

Bill Ellison

The Local 802 gala/fundraiser on Dec. 4 at Roseland was a truly lovely evening. The room looked beautiful and, as you might expect, the musicians who performed were breathtaking. They were truly diverse, and they all made me proud to me a member of the same profession. I was happy to be able to contribute to the Emergency Relief Fund and certainly was paid back – and then some! My only regret was that I saw very few fellow members there. They missed a wonderful event that was put together for such a worthy cause.

Madelyn Rubinstein