The Next Generation

Young musicians get a contract and learn about the union

Volume 115, No. 10October, 2015

Rebecca Blum

These student musicians (pictures below) have learned the power of the union, thanks to Local 802 and the Public Theatre. The Public’s new initiative called Public Works aims to get the people of New York City creatively invested in theatre by engaging them as creators and not just spectators. At the end of an educational period involving workshops and classes, the group presents a large-scale theatre production involving community organizations from all five boroughs of the city.

This year, Public Works featured a new musical adaptation of “The Odyssey” from director Lear deBessonet and lyricist/composer Todd Almond. The show featured cameo performances from many different groups, including the Marching Cobras and the New York Youth Symphony, both of which are pictured above at a rehearsal. Local 802 became involved with this project when we were approached by the Public to work out arrangements to cover the student musicians under a union contract. (The professional musicians were already covered by Local 802’s Nonprofit Agreement.) Working with the Public, Local 802 worked out an agreement covering the Marching Cobras and the New York Youth Symphony, treating these musicians as “paid interns.” Each student musician earned a payment for each service, including technical rehearsals, dress rehearsals and performances.

As part of the agreement, Local 802 officers were given the opportunity to speak with the student musicians after their rehearsal about the benefits of the union. Executive Board member Andy Schwartz and Broadway percussionist Dave Roth gave a brief talk and fielded questions from the students. They covered various topics about working as professional musicians, and discussed many of the opportunities that come along with union membership.

Roth told the students that “the life of a musician is a passionate life. It is a career that we are led to early on in life. The importance of continuing to provide live music for our communities and society is paramount.”

Speaking about the importance of the union, Roth added, “If we all stand together as a union, we can continue to provide a fair standard of living for all those musicians who dedicate their lives to establishing and maintaining their craft.”

Terrel Stowers, executive director of the Marching Cobras, said that band members now have “a better understanding on why it’s important to have a big support team to represent them. The education part of this is so important for every young musician to see and ask questions.”

Sarah Haines, the artistic operations manager of the New York Youth Symphony, observed that the students were “enthusiastic about the idea of a community of working professionals and were interested to hear about the kinds of jobs available to them as they begin to navigate the working world of music.”

This was a rare opportunity for Local 802 to connect with talented student musicians, where they were able to experience some of the great things Local 802 has to offer.

And it was also a reminder to all producers and school administrators that student musicians can and should be paid for high-profile performances – and it can all be done under a union contract. (Call Local 802’s Theatre Department at 212-245-4802 for more info.)

“The Odyssey” was performed at the Delacorte Theatre in Central Park from Sept. 4 to Sept. 7.