A Union Goes to College

  • PDF: https://www.jstor.org/stable/40374061

In September 1978 the Music Department of Kingsborough Community College of the City University of New York welcomed the first class of entering freshmen chosen by the faculty of Kingsborough and the membership of Local 802 of the American Federation of Musicians as candidates for the CUNY baccalaureate degree program in music.

What makes the Kingsborough-Local 802 program unique is the fact that all the students in the program are professional musicians, ranging in age from 17 to 70 and all are members of the musicians union. Some of the students already hold Bachelor's degrees in mathematics, philosophy or art which they earned at other institutions. Others have never attended college and some students never completed their high school course of study. Yet all the candidates are enrolled in the same curriculum: a four-year program of studies in music and the liberal arts administered jointly by the faculties of Kingsborough and Hunter College and offered at Kingsborough's ocean-front campus in Brooklyn.

The innovative plan, conceived in 1974 by Kingsborough's President Leon M. Goldstein, seeks to improve the earning capacity of the music professional by extending his or her training and expanding his or her cultural horizons. The idea was worked out by President Goldstein in consultation with Max L. Aarons and Al Knopf, President and Vice President respectively, of Local 802 of the American Federation of Musicians. The details were prepared by Dr. Bernard I. Shockett, Chairman of Kingsborough's Music Department and himself a member of Local 802, and Lester Salomon, Director of Public Relations of Local 802 of the American Federation of Musicians. The program was complete and ready to be implemented in 1976 but drastic cuts in the New York City budget by the Beame administration delayed action for another two years.

When the Kingsborough-Local 802 cooperative venture finally got under way in the Spring of 1978, 160 union members applied for admission. Of this group 35 were chosen on the basis of auditions and preliminary written examinations in music theory, English and mathematics, as candidates for the special four-year program leading to the CUNY Bachelor of Arts degree in music. The other 125 applicants were admitted to the regular two-year curriculum leading to the Associate in Arts degree in music, with courses designed to prepare the candidate for later admission to the Local 802-Kingsborough program.

Local 802 students who have been admitted to the regular two-year A.A. program may, however, transfer to the B.A. program at any time during which they are matriculated at Kingsborough. Entrance to the advanced program is judged on the basis of new auditions or improved scores in theory, English and mathematics.

One exciting feature of the cooperative Local 802-Kingsborough arrangement is the opportunity to meet outstanding musicians—members of the New York Philharmonic, the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra, the New York City Ballet Orchestra, and other leading artists and personalities. Composers, conductors and arrangers from the world of classical, chamber music, jazz, popular music, the Broadway show, "club dates," and other areas have been engaged as adjunct faculty at Kingsborough. They will share their experience and expertise with the students in private sessions at their studios. The Musicians Trust Fund has also awarded the Department $10,000 in grants which will enable those players to appear in concert with our students in the college orchestra, band, stage band, and ensembles.

One possible consequence of the Local 802-Kingsborough partnership is that it may compel conservatories and music departments to reevaluate their perspective on the scholarship grant. Over the years scholarship awards have been the private preserve of dazzling young virtuosos. But with the influx of large numbers of mature students into every aspect of academe today it is likely that the custom will eventually yield to growing pressures to accommodate the tidal wave of the older learners as well.

For the music professional of any age constant reference to the latest innovations in the art is of course a sine qua non. The study of music begun at any early age is an ongoing process during the entire working lifetime of the artist. To keep pace with his competitors in the profession and to forge ahead to new vistas of expression the working musician needs to engage in a continuous dialogue with his fellow-musicians and to develop genuine insight into the nature of the creative experience. He must also be conversant with other branches of scholarship, both within the scope of music and beyond. He should, in brief, strive to recreate within his own being the essence of the Renaissance man. The end result, happily, is an added bonus of pleasure for the audience and the music maker alike. This is the philosophy which serves as the guidelines for the Local 802-Kingsborough idea.

Funding for the Kingsborough-Local 802 experiment is derived from several sources. Students in either the CUNY B.A. degree program or the Kingsborough A.A. degree program may choose from a number of student financial assistance programs such as the basic educational opportunity grant (BEOG) offered by the U.S. Office of Education, or the tuition assistance plan (TAP) offered by New York State. These programs are intended to help the student pay tuition costs and other college-related fees.

Some Local 802 students performing in concerts, operas and other musical events at Kingsborough's Center for the Performing Arts, in the chamber music series, and at the summer music festival, Music Under the Stars, are paid rehearsal and performance fees at union scale through funds provided by the Music Performance Trust Fund. These frequent engagements help to defray the high cost of college for the musician-student.

"The program of study and the individual courses have been carefully chosen to reflect the special abilities and interests of the musician," says Dr. Bernard Shockett, administrator of the Kingsborough program. According to Dr. Shockett, "The unusual requirements are due both to the maturity of the students—the average age is over thirty—and the rigorous process of selection which preceded their admission." He firmly believes that the students who complete the degree will be able to enter fields previously closed to them.

What the program represents, in principle, is a reversal of the conventional liberal arts program of studies wherein the student chooses from among a cornucopia of subjects designed primarily for personal enrichment, with very little emphasis on skills mastery. The Kingsborough-Local 802 enterprise has as its goal bringing the conservatory to the college—combining training in craftsmanship with education in the liberal arts. One result of the project has been that it has brought a new breed of student to the college campus, namely the mature union member musician. As Wade Barnes, a musician-student sees it, "The Kingsborough program is a great opportunity for those who have worked all their lives and not had the chance to get that college degree which is so much needed today."

The concept and framework of the program have been approved by the University-wide CUNY B.A. degree committee, chaired by Dr. Julio Hernandez Miyares of Kingsborough. The arrangement calls for an unusual integration of Kingsborough and Hunter College liberal arts and music faculty to teach third and fourth year courses in the Local 802 program at Kingsborough's Manhattan Beach campus. A projected CUNY Master of Arts degree in Music will be offered at the Hunter College campus in midtown Manhattan.

While Local 802 students are a part of the Kingsborough student body, their program of study and the content of the individual courses have been tailored to meet their special requirements. For example the Local 802 group meets for only two days a week, on Mondays and Thursdays, instead of the normal student program of four or five days per week. These days were chosen in particular because they are the "slow" days in the music world. So on these two days musicians devote their full time and attention to their college studies. Of course, it goes without saying that these two days are very full days—beginning at 9 a.m., and sometimes ending as late as 10 p.m., depending on which musical group the student has joined. For as part of the program each student is required to participate in one of the college performing ensembles which include a concert band, a stage band, two choruses, a symphony orchestra, a guitar ensemble and a percussion ensemble.

Arthur Hamilton, an 802 student, puts it this way, "It's a good thing that I don't have to go to class on Wednesdays, because if I did, I'd have to cut class. That's the day I play a matinee performance." Hamilton is a member of the orchestra of the Broadway musical Eubie, and also a full-time member of the Kingsborough student body. He has played with Brooks Benton and Aretha Franklin among others and he has also worked in the orchestra of other Broadway shows, notably Two Gentlemen of Verona and Bubbling Brown Sugar. Now he hopes to become a college music instructor. Sam Furnace, who plays flute, clarinet, and trombone for a living, came to college to seek a way of finding better employment. And Dan Albano, whose professional career includes making recordings with Enoch Light, plans to go into writing or teaching.

The CUNY B.A. curriculum covers both classical music and jazz. Other popular styles of music, notably rock, disco and country western, are not a part of the curriculum.

The course of study includes the following subjects:

Arranging: choral, classical, commercial, concert band, popular, stage band, etc.
Calligraphy
Chamber music
Conducting
Ear Training
Education
Instrumental: technique, performance, literature
Jazz
Management: administration, negotiation
Musical theater
Musicology
Opera
Orchestration
Piano minor
Stage band
Symphony orchestra
Theory
Vocal technique: literature and performance

The course of study also includes subjects necessary for the Bachelor of Arts degree: English, history, philosophy, etc.

In the one-year period since the Local 802-Kingsborough program went into effect in 1978, these developments have taken place. The American Federation of Musicians, the parent body of the musicians union, has agreed to expand the Local 802-Kingsborough program to include members of any local, in or outside of New York City. The American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP) signed an agreement with the Board of Higher Education which allows the use of copyrighted material on the college campus.

Applications for admission to the special program have risen sharply. An anticipated 250-300 member student body is projected for 1980-1981. Both the Local and the College have received letters requesting information about the program. The writers are anxious to find out how they may apply for admission. Thus David Post of Elgin, Illinois, writes in a letter to 802's Director, Lester Salomon: "In the May issue of International Musician I read an article on Local 802. . . . Are there still any openings in the program for the Fall of 1979? Please send me information . . . with regard to Kingsborough College and the program in music." Ray D. Hyde, writing from music city, Nashville, Tennessee, believes that "Kingsborough Community College will help me greatly to decide on the benefits of going to school."

Letters have also come in from foreign countries—Mexico, Bermuda, India, among others. The writers, like Taywin Srisook of India, are interested in the jazz curriculum, in particular. "I have heard from some of my friends," he writes, "that your school of music (is) offering a Bachelor's of music in jazz education in the course of four years. . . . I would like you to send me the information . . . what I have to pay for studying music in the jazz style per year and in which month the course will start. . . ."

The majority of the Local 802 musicians who have already completed a year of study are returning for the second year of the program. Vincent Gugleotti, a Local 802 member who has "played all around New York for forty years," sums up the reactions of the union musicians to their learning experiences as Kingsborough students in this letter of appreciation to the Music Department.

"Since I came to Kingsborough in September 1978 I have improved my musicianship a hundred per cent. I have learned Theory that I never knew. Ear Training has taught me to think differently, and I am more conscious of what I am doing while playing or singing. I can now sight sing the hymns I sing in my church.

"The Literature class has made me want to know more about the great masters of music and how they wrote and why. By taking English and algebra I have improved my thinking. My vocabulary has expanded. By being associated with the teachers and students and all the activity of the orchestra and band, I have improved my playing. I am looking forward to the Fall semester."

The presence of adult students from all walks of life on the college campus is no longer a newsworthy event. As the number of 18- to 22-year old students in college continues to decline, and the number of adult students continues to increase, the adult as a part of college life is both a reality and a symbol of the American dream.

What can be considered new and exciting, however, is the unusual action which the American Federation of Musicians took in 1978 when it brought the goal of going to college and earning a college degree to its membership and made the proposal become a reality. Whether or not the musicians union's action is the first of its kind in the annals of labor union history does not matter much. The idea is certain to spread to other labor organizations which in time will undoubtedly do the very same thing for their membership. For when someone builds a better mousetrap the world beats a path to his doorstep. And the musicians union has done just that!

As for the musician-students themselves, they are just what the halls of ivy have needed for a long time. They are mature, dedicated and hard working. They serve as an ideal role model for the regular student body and the younger students like having them around. John Dewey observed that the best students are those who have been tempered by the world. Kingsborough can testify to that as a fact of college life.

Read 1254 times

Last modified on Thursday, 25/10/2018

Go to top