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Home » Officer Columns » Congratulations to the Music Performance Trust Fund

Congratulations to the Music Performance Trust Fund

  -  AFM International Secretary-Treasurer

For the past 75 years, the Music Performance Trust Fund (MPTF) has had the primary mission of supporting live music. This noble goal has been realized year after year. To receive MPTF funding for an engagement, the event must be live and admission-free. Free MPTF concerts have brought the joy of live music to those with the desire to experience all the special rewards live music brings to the human experience.

I’d like to share my early MPTF experience with fellow musicians, particularly those of you who are just starting out in the business. Back in the 1970s, MPTF was my lifesaver. I arrived in New York City with a strong desire to fulfill my dream of becoming a full-time, professional musician. My problem was that I was unknown in NYC, and you needed to know people to break in as a freelance musician.

During those early days, I was able to find a telephone number for Arthur Fiedler who was the Boston Pops conductor. Thinking he might have some advice for me, I called the number. To my surprise, Fiedler answered the phone. I explained that I was a young musician just beginning my career. Fiedler was gracious and gentle with me but said he did not have any work for me. However, one piece of advice that he shared has remained with me throughout my career. That advice was, “You have to make your own opportunities!” I was initially disappointed that the call did not lead to something more substantial, but his advice served me well over the years.

Shortly after arriving in NYC, I had joined Local 802. I soon became aware of the Music Performance Trust Fund. At the time, Local 802 employed an MPTF liaison named Olga James (some of you may remember her). Her job was to assist with the disbursement of the local’s MPTF allocation. So, I made an appointment to meet with James and she educated me about how MPTF could assist. She told me that if I could come up with a sponsor who would pay 50% of the costs needed for a concert, MPTF would come up with the rest of the funds.

To my mind, this presented an excellent opportunity. If I could find a sponsor, I could begin to get to know the community of musicians by hiring them for work, rather than asking them for a gig. All I needed was a sponsor.

I began thinking about public spaces that might have some funds available to put toward an MPTF concert. I put together a budget for 15 musicians using the Local 802 MPTF scales. Though an unlikely venue, I decided to try speaking with someone at the NYC Port Authority Bus Terminal.
I got an appointment with a mid-level Port Authority executive. I began my pitch by suggesting we could lift up the image of the bus station by putting on a series of chamber orchestra concerts, if the Port Authority would only come up with half the funding! He loved the idea and took it to the PA decision makers. Within a few days we were given a green light.

We performed on a level area that was about 15 x 15 feet, about halfway up, between the up and down escalators. The audience could hear us on both the main level and the second floor. After the public got over the initial shock of hearing a live chamber orchestra in the middle of the bus terminal, they began to actually interrupt their commute to listen for as long as they could before catching their bus to New Jersey or other destinations. The public loved listening to us and we loved playing for them.

I tell this story because I remain eternally grateful to the MPTF for making my start as a professional musician possible. I want all those starting out in this business to know that the MPTF can do the same for you. Just remember what Arthur Fiedler said, “You have to make your own opportunities.” MPTF is here to support all genres of music and to help make your dreams come true.

Thank you and happy 75th anniversary MPTF!

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