The Musicians’ Voice

Volume 112, No. 2February, 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.

Thanks for the article “How do I get a gig on Broadway” in the January issue of Allegro. I enjoyed it! So often these types of things are boilerplate: “play well, know the score, etc.” But this article offered some very useful help and guidance. Plus the musicians are all personable and entertaining writers.

Amelia Hollander Ames

Thanks for your Broadway article in the last issue. I was at the Meet and Greet sponsored by Local 802 last fall, and it looks like you did a great job at capturing the essence of advice given to newcomers on Broadway. I’m sure anyone who reads it will want to attend the next one.

I’m happy to report that, since attending the Meet and Greet, I’ve started subbing on Broadway. My friend has the chair and I expressed to him how eager I was to sub when they were still in previews. I contacted him again after the show opened and now I’m about to play about my tenth show.

Eric Stockton

Thanks for your Broadway article. I’ve played drum set and some percussion for numerous musical theatre productions since my earliest days as a young musician. Later, I moved on to bus-and-truck tours of musicals in Europe in the 1990’s as well as a brief stint as drummer for Blue Man Group at the Astor Place Theatre. Therefore, I have some small qualification to speak on this subject myself.

In current times, working musicians know that Broadway is one of the last realms of financially viable live performance work in New York, in an era when technology and live DJ trends have decimated so many of the work opportunities for players. Therefore, any info on how to break into this field is helpful and timely.

I especially connected with John Miller’s statement about how Broadway work ought to be something one is “also” doing, not just one’s sole goal or direction. For example, I have also pursued jazz projects, modern dance accompaniment, private teaching and many other avenues. But more and more, musical theatre is often one’s central income source, including Broadway, Off Broadway, tours and workshops.

May I suggest that Allegro do a follow-up series? How about a feature on Broadway reed player work, then percussion, copyist/librarian, etc.?

Articles of this type are truly practical and show that our union cares about its members, and wants us all to be out there working.

Greg Burrows


While what has been done to the fabled Philadelphia Orchestra is certainly outrageous, I must ask where the musicians’ leadership was during this struggle. As wonderful and together as this ensemble is onstage, offstage it is fractious with younger players just out of Curtis and other music schools glad to belong to the orchestra regardless of contract cutbacks, while a small group of longtime players was solidly against ratification. Firm leadership from the orchestra’s committee, its attorney (she is also ICSOM’s attorney) and its Local 77 president might have changed the outcome. A strike authorization vote should have been taken when news of the imminent bankruptcy first surfaced. Sadly, this leadership seems to have been lacking.

The POA’s chair of the board withheld his own $5 million donation until after declaring bankruptcy and must have asked other large donors to do the same. Upon assuming the chairmanship in 2009, he stated publicly that the defined benefit pension plan was not to his liking and had to go. Since bankruptcy wasn’t filed until April 2011, there should have been ample time to rally the troops and prepare to fight this disgraceful act.

In ratifying this atrocious contract, the orchestra’s musicians have accepted a 20 percent cut in salary from the last year of their former agreement (never achieved because of a giveback freeze), a 35 percent cut for subs and emeritus players, an attrition of 10 musicians that might be restored sometime after this four-year contract expires and a defined contribution pension plan that they can invest for themselves. Their basic salary is now below that of Minnesota, Cleveland and Washington, D.C.

Further, realizing it or not, they have negatively impacted all AFM musicians vested in the AFM-EPF. The fund’s chances of recouping all of the POA’s unfunded liability are slim to none.

Michael Comins


Thanks for Mike Longo’s story about digital theft that you recently ran in Allegro and 802 NOTES. Theft of music is pretty common. In my own case, I was playing a gig in Maryport (U.K.), and after the set we sold CD’s off the stage. One guy came up to me and said “I already have all your stuff, I downloaded it off of Limewire. But I want to buy a CD anyway to help support the band.”

I didn’t know whether to thank him or punch him out. This was one guy, in a packed, small club in a small fishing village in Northern England. How much have we lost in sales?

We’ll never know.

Russell “Hitman” Alexander

As a music editor for Alfred Music Publishing and an audition accompanist, I have regularly seen pirated music placed in front of me for auditions.

For example, my published anthologies contain several songs which are the only published versions available. I know the composers personally and worked to secure the licenses. While playing auditions, I have been presented with pirated copies of these songs. Having worked intimately with the score, I knew these copies were illegally obtained. I questioned the actor and they confirmed this fact. Of course, this means that the composers, lyricist, the publisher, and myself as the editor who worked to make this music available to the public legally are all being ripped off.

I would love to see a policy that audition accompanists have the right to refuse to play from illegally obtained scores. This would also help with the eye-strain and brain-fog that occurs from having to read the illegally obtained hand copies of composer’s sketches, conductor’s scores, or the unedited Finale files.

It’s just a thought, but one I’d like to see the union consider for both pirating and audition accompanist “hazard” conditions.

Lisa DeSpain

File sharing, now a culturally acceptable act, has all but put the nail in the coffin for the recording industry. Artists and their colleagues in business have been cut out of the equation. Where is the shame?

No longer is it financially viable for musicians to survive on their recordings. The changes in technology and business have offered great creative opportunity for the masses, but at what cost?

We have seen institutions fold, wither, and wobble in New York: Carl Fischer and Patelson’s, Tower and Virgin Records, New York City Opera, Sony Records, and the Grammys. The domino effect is in full force. Artists have left Manhattan in droves. The IRS classifies an increasing pool of established artists as “hobbyists.”

With the forces of Facebook, iTunes, Google, Youtube and Twitter, there is no turning back. How can we navigate through this paradigm shift, this sea change?

Now is the time, in an election year, for the arts community to fight once again for our rights, in a new era that includes the arts as an essential part of our economy.

We need a combination of philanthropy (remember that?), legislation, new business models, and innovation in technology to bring the arts out of the financial grave. A society that provides healthy support for the arts benefits economically, spiritually, creatively and emotionally.

The ground is starting to shake. We are seeing a renaissance in Brooklyn’s BAM district thanks to the vision of Harvey Lichtenstein. Tony Bennett and Jay-Z have inspired investment in our New York City public schools arts programs. Cleveland initiated public arts funding to renew their arts economy. Kickstarter has ignited a wave of independent arts ventures.

Artists thrive in the groundlessness, in the bardo, on the edge. It is time to seize the moment and take action. Now.

Chris Chalfant


The New York City Opera lockout is an absolute outrage! In following this disturbing, unfortunate turn of events, I am compelled to ask, what will it take for people of our nation to realize en masse that if this rapid transfer of wealth toward the top one per cent continues unabated much longer in this country, it will affect everyone and likely be irreversible for decades?

Like a bad movie we have all seen many times before, we witness the spectacle of yet another (mis-)manager running another important organization into the ground due to internal managerial incompetence.

And as we have all witnessed with the Philadelphia Orchestra pension debacle, the pain for that managerial incompetence and chicanery is borne almost entirely on the backs of hardworking individuals who are merely carrying out the duties for which they were hired – namely, rehearsing and performing.

And while gutting NYCO of the necessary labor required to stage operatic productions, Steel collects a salary ten times more than the workers he locked out. Can anyone say Bain Capital?

The revenue loss to our union as a result of Steel’s action is devastating. So the question becomes, how much longer can we as a union, a people, a nation, sustain the stranglehold under which boards of directors throughout the United States continue to hold hardworking citizens?

In following this story in the New York Times, I read how musician Rufus Wainwright, currently a member of Local 802, “issued an appeal for fans to buy tickets for [his opera] Prima Donna. ‘A big early interest in “Prima Donna” would really boost the moral [sic] and physical prospects for both my piece and the New York City Opera as a whole,’ he wrote.” Apparently Wainwright is not part of the musicians who make up the “us” in music.

Dan Manjovi


I thought Marc Ribot’s article in the December issue recounting the union’s effort to organize the Winter Jazzfest really hit the nail on the head. Marc and the organizing committee were really awesome in making it happen. Persistence was key.

Now, the union should be calling a strike against all the clubs in NYC that reneged on their promise during the Justice for Jazz Artists campaign five years ago to pass along the savings from the reduction in sales tax on ticket sales.

At the same time, it’s also unconscionable that the union failed to secure written agreements from the clubs to pass along the savings.

According to a recent New York Times article, clubs saved an average of $67,000 each after the reduction in the sales tax. Anybody see ticket prices go down the past few years?

In 2008 alone, the savings was $2.2 million. It’s now been four years of savings totaling over $9 million straight into the pockets of club owners instead of the union pension fund. WTF!

Let’s hope the union doesn’t make the same mistake ever again. One way the union could start supporting the jazz community properly would be to call a strike against all of the major jazz clubs. Let’s start with the Blue Note, shall we? Owners Steve and Danny Bensusan should be the first ones targeted with immediate nonstop picketing. They refuse to even speak to the union. But why would they?

As Frederick Douglas said, “Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will.” Call that strike. I’ll be right there!

Vinson Valega


The “Occupy Wall Street” tunes that appeared in the last issue of Allegro inspired me to share with readers my own “Occupy” lyrics. They’re sung to the melody of the “Battle Hymn of the Republic.”

That melody, by the way, was originally a campfire spiritual about brotherhood. It was later adapted to the anti-slavery song “John Brown’s Body” and, of course, the union anthem “Solidarity Forever.”

The meter in my lyrics below follows “John Brown’s Body” more than the “Battle Hymn of the Republic.”


We are the people of the ninety-nine percent.
Marching together on you greedy one percent.
All your wars for money,
Martin Luther King condemned.
From you we will be free.


Wall Street is stealing from the people.
Wall Street wars are killing people.
You stole our media and our government,
And we’ll take them back from you!*

*(option: repeat the melody of the last line with various versions: “We will get free from you!” or “We’ll see you behind bars!” or “You will be prosecuted!” or “Stop Wall Street crimes right now!”)

Make up your own last refrain for each particular Occupy event.

After the last line of the hymn a leader could sing a new refrain solo to be answered by the multitude (call and response) on the next repeat as a cadence of affirmation and resolve.

Hank Nowak