‘Why we joined the union’

Volume 118, No. 4April, 2018

Brian Prunka

I was a member of AFM Local 174-496 when I lived in New Orleans, and I joined Local 802 when I became involved with the new Broadway show “The Band’s Visit.” Though my background is in jazz guitar, these days I primarily compose and play oud. Since there aren’t many other professional oud players who can sight read and accommodate both traditional and non-traditional styles, it’s been a great niche. I want to continue to connect with other musicians and opportunities, and I feel that the union can help with that. Plus I really appreciate the work that the union does to ensure fair conditions for musicians. I’ve been playing professionally in New York for the past 14 years in a wide variety of creative and commercial projects. My goal is to continue to meet and collaborate with more of the many brilliant and creative musicians and artists who call New York home. My favorite recent gig was playing at the Bryant Park Accordion Festival with one of my groups – the Bil Afrah Project – which is dedicated to Lebanese music from the 60s and 70s. Aside from being fun and beautiful music on a gorgeous night for an appreciative crowd, one of the things that made it special was that joining us was the legendary percussionist Michel Baklouk, who played on many of the original recordings from Lebanon. I’m always looking for musical challenges, and learning to play traditional Arabic music has been an ongoing source of new challenges – microtonal modes, complex ornamentation, the many subtleties of rhythm, intonation and articulation, as well as the immense repertoire of amazing and sophisticated music. Despite 20 years of playing this music, I am constantly discovering new layers. It’s such a deep tradition. Oud is my primary instrument these days, but guitar is my first instrument and what I went to music school for. It remains very important to me.