Happy new year! I welcome all Local 802 members to 2016, which is the 92nd year of Local 802’s existence. We are alive and kicking, with a solid balance sheet for a labor union. We’re doing very well. We continue, as always, to represent our established musicians who work under long-term and mature collective bargaining agreements. We fight for the rights of those members at all times. But also we are constantly seeking ways to invite younger members into the Local 802 community and to convince them that union membership will allow them to establish a sustainable professional life. A few recent events illustrate our past and future.
In November, we lost two long-lived and estimable members of Local 802 and the percussion community. Long-time Metropolitan Opera Orchestra timpanist Richard Horowitz passed away on Nov. 2 at the age of 92. He performed at the Met for more than 60 years and was considered one of the finest timpanists of recent orchestral history. He also was well-known as a crafter of conductor’s batons, finely tooling them in his own basement for decades. Who bought his batons? Maybe the real question is: who did not? His clientele included many of the most prominent conductors of our time. He will be missed. Then, Paul Fein, timpanist and percussionist, died a few weeks later, on Nov. 30. Paul was a Local 802 member for more than 60 years. Consider Paul’s estimable career: he performed with the Metropolitan Opera, the New York Philharmonic, the Symphony of the Air, American Ballet Theatre, the Joffrey Ballet, the Musica Aeterna Orchestra, the Musica Sacra Orchestra and Chorus, the Goldman Band and many others. He was the percussionist/timpanist in the original Broadway production of “Man of La Mancha” and was a constant performer in the New York City Ballet orchestra as assistant timpanist and auxiliary percussionist. He was the timpanist of the New York City Opera Orchestra and only retired five years ago, in 2011. We mourn the passing of Paul Fein and Richard Horowitz but honor and admire their long lives and distinguished musicianship. (See their obituaries in this issue.)
Now for some hopeful news about Local 802’s future. Please consider some events of the past few months:
First, Ron Wasserman, New York City Ballet bassist and staunch union supporter, formed an ensemble called the New York Jazzharmonic. A fine idea, to be sure, but to make it even better, Ron came to Local 802, signed a union agreement to cover his bandmembers, and was able to launch a series of concerts – all under Local 802 contract. The Jazzharmonic is thus on its way with union-based wages and benefits.
Secondly, Darcy James Argue, a composer of innovative and fascinating new works for big band instrumentation that contain serious twists and innovations, filed a union contract for his band’s multi-media performance at BAM. The performance received great reviews, and the musicians received artistic kudos – as well as union-based benefits.
Thirdly, a Local 802 member approached us with the notion of creating a chamber music company that might perform a series of corporate lunchtime concerts. Musicians would be covered by a Local 802 agreement. We are in very serious discussions as to how such a structure might work.
Next, I have had recent extensive discussions with New Music USA, an organization that promotes new music composers and performers. We had a long conversation regarding the relevancy of unions to the performance of new music, prompted by a post to their web site (NewMusicBox.org), which quoted an Allegro article I wrote at the end of 2013. An initial mutual reticence has turned into a fascinating and productive discussion of the ways in which younger union members could maximize income and work in the current music environment, which differs significantly from the world that created our legacy Local 802 contracts and agreements.
Finally, in the last month I talked about the union to classes at the Manhattan School of Music and Juilliard, as well as to young people experiencing the “Creating the Magic” productions of Inside Broadway. My message to them is that the union is adaptable and inclusive and that Local 802 can and should be a crucial part of the career path of any serious young musician.
It has been a whirlwind sort of month, but one in which our outreach to younger members may have gained some small bit of traction. If you think you might be in that category, please contact me and let’s have a conversation. I welcome all who will take that step. Call me at (212) 245-4802, ext. 105. Let Local 802 help you begin the path that just might result in the stalwart and estimable professional lives mentioned at the top of this column.