Tag Archives: international musician

Striking Frontier Workers Face Restraining Order

A judge issued a temporary restraining order against striking Frontier Communications workers in West Virginia and Ashburn, Virginia, preventing them from “engaging in certain unlawful violence, property damage, and mass picketing” that the company claims has occurred during the ongoing strike. Communications Workers of America District 12-13 Vice President Ed Mooney says there have been no incidents of strike-related misconduct.

“The company’s action comes in the face of tremendous support that residents and business owners across West Virginia have shown for the strike, and shows that the company is worried because that support could spread to Connecticut, where Frontier workers have set up informational pickets at work locations and at Frontier’s headquarters,” he says.

The strike follows 10 months of negotiations on a contract that was set to expire August 4, 2017, but was extended twice to March 4. For the striking CWA Local 142 members, job security is the main concern. Customer service complaints have been on the rise as Frontier has cut more than 500 middle-class jobs, sometimes replacing them with contractors unfit to service the network. The union wants 100% of the employees to have protection against layoffs, while Frontier is willing to offer only 85%, leaving about 200 employees at risk.

Advocacy Group Promotes Union to Women Film Workers

Women in Media (WIM) provides networking opportunities, professional development, and advocacy for women in above- and below-the-line positions on film productions. Few studies look at female representation in below-the-line positions, but across the top-grossing 100 films of 2017, women comprised 14% of editors, 2% of cinematographers, and 3% of composers, according to a report from San Diego State University professor Martha Lauzen. On April 27 WIM will hold a panel for union members and nonmembers on “navigating the unions.” Representatives from IATSE, the Motion Picture Editor’s Guild, Directors Guild of America, and other unions will be present.

Verizon Promises No Layoffs in Call Center Closure

Communications Workers of America estimates that the closure of six Verizon call centers nationwide will result in the elimination of 3,000 of its 6,500 current positions, but Verizon claims it’s not a layoff. A Verizon spokesperson has said the company is offering employees the same pay and benefits “to work from the comfort of their own home through the Home Based Agent model.” Plus, they will get a $65 per month for Internet access.

“If this is not a layoff, as Verizon claims, all workers at the … affected centers should get to keep their jobs,” says Dennis Trainor, union vice president and Wireless Workers United chair. Many of them will not meet Verizon’s home-work requirements. They must be able to work split shifts, weekends, and holidays; have high-speed Internet at home; and an extra room with total quiet.

According to the Verizon spokesperson, none of the workers in the affected Albuquerque, New Mexico; Franklin, Tennessee; Hilliard, Ohio; Huntsville, Alabama; Little Rock, Arkansas; Mankato, Minnesota; and North Charleston, South Carolina; facilities are represented by the union.

Teachers Nationwide Seek Better Pay

A report from National Education Association (NEA) Research, based on US census data, finds that annual pay for teachers has fallen sharply over the past 60 years compared to the annual pay of other workers with college degrees. Throughout the nation, the average earnings of workers with at least four years of college are now more than 50% higher than the average earnings of teachers.

The number of teachers staging rallies and threatening strikes over pay and benefits is growing. Following a statewide walkout in February, West Virginia teachers earned a modest raise. Meanwhile, Arizona teachers have conducted a series of #RedforEd demonstrations demanding higher pay. Jersey City, New Jersey, teachers went back to work March 19 after reaching a tentative agreement to end an eight-month dispute that led to a strike and school closures on Friday, March 16. Chief concerns for the 3,100 teachers were salaries and high health care costs. Oklahoma teachers who have not had a raise in a decade, have vowed to strike April 2 if there is no pay increase in the education budgets.

A 2016 NEA study ranked states from highest to lowest in terms of pay. West Virginia (48), Arizona (43), and Oklahoma (49) were among the lowest. Teachers in New York (1) and California (2) earned the most. Teachers in Mississippi (50) and South Dakota (51) earned the least.

Betsy DeVos Accused of Union Busting

The American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE), representing US Department of Education employees, filed a complaint in March accusing Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos’s agency of union busting after it implemented a 40-page “collective bargaining agreement.”

The union says that the document is anything but what its name implies—it wasn’t bargained and there was no agreement. The document strips out most of the content of the parties previous collective bargaining agreement, removing virtually all union rights. The new rules require employees carry out union duties without pay and also forbids them to use Department of Education office space and equipment.

Tax Changes

Big Tax Changes for Musicians in 2018

Guest columnist Scott Stratton, trombonist and member of Local 72-147 (Dallas-Fort Worth, TX), provides commentary and direction for musicians navigating changes to US tax law. It is provided for informational purposes only, not as a substitute for advice from your personal tax professional.

The Tax Cuts And Jobs Act (TCJA) passed in December presents the most sweeping changes to US tax policy in 30 years and will have a significant impact on working musicians. The changes discussed below apply to your 2018 taxes. Your 2017 taxes (to be filed in April 2018) are still under the old rules.

Many musicians will find their federal income taxes decrease slightly, but there are so many changes that some musicians may actually see their taxes go up, especially if they are a W-2 employee, live in a high tax state, and previously had a significant amount of itemized deductions.

Most taxpayers will see a 1% to 4% reduction in their marginal tax rate, although some single taxpayers in the 28% bracket for 2017 have been bumped up to 32% and some in the 33% bracket will pay 35% in 2018. The new tax brackets have a sunset after 2025, when the 2017 tax rates are scheduled to return.

The standard deduction will increase from $6,350 in 2017 to $12,000 in 2018 for single taxpayers, and from $12,700 to $24,000 for married couples. However, the personal exemption of $4,050 has been eliminated, so the increase in tax-free income is really only from $10,400 to $12,000. A family of four previously would have had a standard deduction and personal exemptions of $28,900 and they will actually see this fall to $24,000. Offsetting this is an expansion of the Child Tax Credit from $1,000 to $2,000 and an increase of the qualifying income cap from $75,000 to $200,000 (single) and $110,000 to $400,000 (married).

For musicians who are W-2 employees, perhaps for an orchestra or university, it will become very difficult to have enough itemized deductions to exceed the standard deduction of $12,000/$24,000. That’s not only because of the higher levels, but also because the TCJA caps or eliminates many of our prior deductions. It is expected that the number of taxpayers who itemize will fall from around one-third to less than 10% in 2018.

First, your deduction of state and local taxes will be capped at $10,000 (single or married). For musicians who live in high tax areas, it is very possible that you spend significantly more than this amount on your property tax, state income tax, and sales tax. If you have a home equity loan or line of credit, those interest payments will no longer be deductible in 2018, unless the loan was used for the acquisition of that property.

Second, the TCJA has repealed all “Miscellaneous Itemized Deductions.” Starting in 2018, W-2 musicians can no longer deduct “Unreimbursed Employee Expenses,” such as buying an instrument, sheet music, supplies or equipment, required concert clothing, mileage, job search/audition expenses, research expenses for professors, or your home office expenses. Additionally, you can no longer deduct tax preparation fees, investment management fees, memberships to professional organizations, or union membership and work dues.

What is so unprecedented about this change is that it penalizes W-2 employees (who itemize deductions on Schedule A), but most of those costs remain valid expenses for musicians who are self-employed and report their business income on Schedule C. If you are a W-2 employee, and face losing all these deductions, I’d recommend you try to add some Schedule C income on the side, such as teaching private lessons in your home, so you can claim some of these expenses on Schedule C.

For self-employed musicians (including 1099), there are two additional benefits starting in 2018. First, there is a new 20% deduction for small businesses that are “pass-through” entities. Pass through entities will be taxed on only 80% of their qualified business income (QBI). A lot of musicians have asked me if they need to form an LLC or S-corporation to be eligible, but thankfully, the answer is no. Anyone who is a sole proprietor and reports on Schedule C can claim this deduction. You do not need to incorporate.

Here’s where it gets more complicated. Congress sought to limit the ability of service professionals such as doctors or lawyers to use this deduction, but the IRS definition of a “specified service business” also includes performing arts. This means that there is an income cap for musicians to qualify for the QBI deduction. To be eligible, your taxable income must be under $157,500 (single) or $315,000 (married). Above these amounts, the 20% deduction is phased out over the next $50,000 (single) or $100,000 (married). That’s still good news for most self-employed musicians.

The second benefit for self-employed musicians is the expansion of Section 179 rules. Section 179 allows small business owners to immediately deduct business purchases, such as musical instruments, sound and recording equipment, computers, office furniture, or certain business vehicles like an SUV or van. Without Section 179, these large purchases would have to be depreciated over a number of years. For 2018 through 2022, Section 179 limits have been increased, bonus depreciation has been increased from 50% to 100%, and used equipment is now eligible for bonus depreciation.

Please talk with your tax advisor about how these changes might impact your individual situation. The authors of the TCJA were clearly more concerned with helping businesses than employees. This is seen in how positive things are for self-employed musicians versus how W-2 musicians were given a mixed bag of small benefits in the standard deduction and lower tax rates, but an effective loss of the ability to itemize. One thing is for sure—it will help if you know in advance what you will be able to deduct and what is not deductible, and be sure to keep excellent records of receipts, mileage, and expenses.

—Scott Stratton, CFP, CFA is the president of Good Life Wealth Management and the publisher of www.FinanceForMusicians.com. He is a member of Local 72-147 (Dallas-Fort Worth, TX) and can be contacted at scott@goodlifewealth.com.

Lennie Cuje

The Freedom to Play: How Jazz Saved Lennie Cuje

Lennie Cuje has been a fixture on the jazz scene for more than 60 years. A Local 161-710 (Washington, DC) member since the 1950s, the celebrated vibist has experienced life on a grand scale—in music, in war, and in two homelands.

Born in 1933 in Giessen, Germany, (40 miles north of Frankfurt)  Cuje grew up during the Nazi regime. He was enrolled in an elite music school at nine years old. Like all German boys, it was compulsory to join the Hitler Youth, making the pledge, he says, “‘born to die for Germany.’”

Near the end of WWII, when there was a shortage of soldiers, he and other 12-year-old boys were drafted by the SS to train on MG-42 machine guns. His conductor father got into trouble with the Nazis for refusing to play preferred music of the regime and was exiled to the front to drive a truck. After his school and city were bombed out, the family was evacuated from Frankfurt and became separated. Cuje and his classmate and friend Ulrich found themselves in the hands of the French. They were spared internment in POW camps and found refuge at a local convent to live out the remainder of the war.

The story of the boys’ journey in 1945 across Europe and a decimated Germany in search of their mothers is the subject of a play that recently aired on Hessian Radio Frankfurt and Kultur Radio Berlin. Ulrich, who made a career as an actor and in radio back in Germany, was instrumental in compiling their story, which has aired in Germany four times already in the last year. A recurring theme in the play is freedom, as Cuje explains. “We went to sleep in a barn and were surprised to wake up to realize that we were still free.”

At the end of the war, Cuje was going through an American sentry post when he first heard jazz. “I heard that strange music in the guard house, which I thought was African. It was exciting; it just grabbed me,” he says. The tune that enthralled him—which would define the rest of his life—was Lionel Hampton’s “Flying Home.”

Back in Frankfurt, his family subsisted on meager rations. He traded on the black market to provide for them. Cuje says, “The hunger, poverty, coldness, it was a part of our life. The currency was cigarettes.”

When Cuje immigrated to the States in 1950, he was already well versed in American jazz standards, owing to the jazz shows on American Armed Forces Radio. He says, too, that he formed the first German baseball team, the Frankfurt Juniors. “Baseball and jazz—that was going to be my life.”

With the support of his aunt who had been in the US since the 1930s, he embraced everything American. He was drafted into the Air Force in 1952, later attending East Tennessee University to continue his music studies. He learned to be American, Cuje says, “penny loafers and all.”

“When I left Germany, I left everything German behind,” he says. “The way they taught it, Germany was the only country that could save the world. Reality for me was a lie. By 1945, when it all collapsed, my friend Uli, he knows. Suddenly, we realized we’d been lied to for the first 12 years of our lives. I didn’t want to have much to do with Germany. As a Hitler youth, I had to take an oath to die for the swastika. And here, in the air force—I had to swear to two flags. It makes you think about a lot of things.”

“Jazz was like medicine for the mind and it brought a feeling of freedom. Baseball had that same feeling—freedom!” His late wife, Reneé, a professor of German at American University, convinced him that he needed to revisit his past in a profound way. She encouraged him to re-establish his Frankfurt school connections.

In 2016, after 71 years, Cuje and his old friend, Uli, were reunited. “We always wondered whether the other made it out alive. When Uli found out I played the vibraphone, he was amazed. Uli said, ‘My god, Lennie Cuje is a known jazz musician in America.’”

Cuje began speaking German with his wife again, which he had not done in many years, and it helped him reconcile past and present. “It brought peace to me. It was important for my musical career. I was able to put the two Lennies together,” he says. “That’s when I started my career all over again, from the beginning.”

When he began playing in the 1950s, Cuje was one of the few white players on the U Street corridor of Washington, DC, part of the Chitlin’ Circuit. He says, “I had all black cats in my band so I played on the black scale, which was less than the white union. We’d go from one juke joint to another and pass the hat. My nickname was ‘snowflake’,” he laughs, adding, “Those were glorious days for me.”

In 1960, he joined the Buck Clarke Band with Charlie Hampton, Duane Alston, and Billy Hart and recorded with Clarke for Argo Records. At the height of the avant-garde movement in 1963, like many musicians, he made an exodus, anxious to join leading players like Cecil Taylor, Ornette Coleman, and especially John Coltrane in New York City. He landed his first gig with Dave Figg and Paul Bley, whom Cuje knew from DC, and studied with renowned vibists Warren Chiasson of Local 802 (New York City) and Dave Pike. He played gigs with David Amram of Local 1000 (Nongeographic), Philly Joe Jones (Miles Davis’s drummer), and Larry Coryell.

Later, back in Arlington, in 1983, he began a 10-year engagement at DC’s famous One Step Down with Nasar Abadey of Local 161-710 and at Baltimore’s Harbor Court Hotel with Lou Rainone for 20 years. Spike Wilner of Smalls Jazz Club in New York City became a good friend and frequent collaborator and even now, on occasion, he plays vibes with Chuck Redd, with whom he’s performed over the last 30 years.

In 2000, Cuje’s artistic vision took him in another direction. After Cuje’s aunt, Magdalena Schoch, died, he found poems and a handwritten manuscript of music in the family’s basement, which were composed by Albrecht Mendelssohn Bartholdy (grandson of composer Felix Mendelssohn) and dedicated to Cuje’s Aunt Lena.

Cuje explains that she was Mendelssohn Bartholdy’s protégé. “It was a love affair that never was. They were partners who formed the first German international law office in the late 1920s. She was a professor at Hamburg University until 1934, when Mendelssohn Bartholdy—a scholar and advocate for peace—fled Nazi Germany for England. He died there in 1936, and the Nazis warned that if Lena attended the funeral, she’d lose everything.

With Reneé’s help he arranged the music titled “Lieder for Lena,” which premiered in West Berlin’s Mendelssohn House. “We decided to bring it to life in honor of my aunt who brought me to this country so I could live my dream,” says Cuje.

At 85 years old, Cuje calls himself a “civilian.” He’s retired the tux, but plays local gigs and occasionally when his old friend Spike Wilner comes to town. Cuje has come full circle, embracing everything American, German, and jazz.

His favorite baseball team is the Yankees. “I love to see a good baseball game,” he says. “It’s like jazz, you’ve got the pitcher and the batter and when that ball hits the wood, everything goes into action, like a band. It’s wonderful.”

Preventing and Managing Wrist Tendinitis

by Allison Shearer, MOT, OTR/L, CHT

Due to repetitive motions, instrumentalists are prone to overuse injuries of the wrist and hand. Among those most at risk are string players and percussionists. One problem is de Quervain’s tenosynovitis, a form of tendinitis particularly common in percussionists. This inflammatory condition affects the two tendons in the wrist that control the ability to pull the thumb out and away from the hand. The sheath containing the tendons swells and thickens, irritating the tendons and causing pain on the thumb side of the wrist that can extend into the thumb. Pain often worsens with thumb and wrist motion, gripping, and pinching. For professional musicians, ceasing performance usually isn’t an option. So how can you manage and prevent these symptoms?

Perform Dynamic Stretching

Regardless of whether you’re gearing up for practice or performance, always warm up. Musicians are similar to athletes. They repeatedly perform a high-level skill with extreme precision and focus. Like athletes, a five to 10-minute warm-up of dynamic stretching—stretching through motion—primes the body for playing. Moving your joints through their full available range of motion stimulates blood flow, lubricates joints, and improves flexibility, strength, and body awareness. It can also enhance performance and reduce the likelihood of injury. Try these movements to warm up your wrists and hands.

  • arm circles — Hold arms to the side of the body at shoulder height and slowly make smaller-to-larger circles clockwise, then reverse the circles to make larger-to-smaller circles counterclockwise.
  • wrist circles — Hold your fingers in a loose fist position and slowly move your wrist in a circular motion both clockwise and counterclockwise.
  • thumb opposition — Touch the tip of your thumb to the tip of each finger in an “O” shape and straight out for a stretch.
  • tendon gliding exercises for the fingers — See example images below.

Examples of tendon gliding exercises that help to warm up fingers.

Do not perform static stretching—manually stretching soft tissue and joints—prior to playing. This can actually decrease strength. This type of stretching should be saved for after you play to reduce excessive muscular tension.

Check Your Grip

Have an expert in your instrument or a clinician specializing in performing arts medicine check how you are holding and playing your instrument. For example, de Quervain’s in timpanists can be related to how you hold your mallets. Using a French style grip places extra stress on the thumb side of the wrist, irritating the tendons. With a German or American style grip, the forearm is in a more palm-down position and more force is absorbed by the palm and index finger. Modifying your grip—even temporarily—may allow you to continue playing.

Check Your Hearing

Choosing the correct type of hearing protection is essential. Too little protection can put you at risk for hearing loss. Too much protection (industrial-strength, foam-style earplugs) may cause you to “overplay.” Overplay occurs when too much high-frequency sound is filtered out and you compensate by playing louder, strumming or striking the instrument with excessive force. Specialized musicians’ earplugs provide even filtering of low, medium, and high frequency sounds.

Avoid Aggravating Motions

In de Quervain’s, the tendons are aggravated by moving your wrist side-to-side, so avoid pulling too far towards your thumb. Also avoid pulling your thumb far away from your hand—such as when stretching your hand over the top of a jar—and minimize pinching activities. This means changing the way you grasp and lift objects. For example, if you are lifting a frying pan, use a palm-up position to grasp and lift the pan to reduce stress. If you have small children, rather than picking them up by placing your hands underneath their armpits, try to “scoop” them up from underneath, again using the palm-up position.

Seek Medical Attention

If you are experiencing pain that occurs for more than four days, is unbearable, or worsening, seek medical attention. Do not let your pain become unmanageable, as early diagnosis and treatment yield better outcomes. Physicians specializing in performing arts medicine are best suited to assess your symptoms and intervene as appropriate. Participation in a hand therapy rehabilitation program with an occupational or physical therapist is often recommended.

Try Conservative Methods

After diagnosis, doctors typically recommend conservative management techniques to treat tendinitis. A recent onset (two weeks or less) of pain on the thumb side of your wrist likely means that you are experiencing acute inflammation of the tendons and sheaths. To reduced pain and inflammation during this time, apply ice for 10-15 minutes, one to three times per day or after playing. If you have significant or constant pain, you may be advised to use a thumb splint (thumb spica), which puts your wrist in a healthy position for healing.

—Allison Shearer, MOT, OTR/L, CHT, is an occupational therapist specializing in the treatment of musicians’ injuries. She is a member of the Performing Arts Medicine Association, and founder of Resonance Wellness.

Social Media Campaign Recovers Stolen Cello

French soloist Ophelie Gaillard’s was robbed of the 18th-century cello she plays at knifepoint outside her home in a Paris suburb. Shortly after, she appealed for help on Facebook, sharing pictures of the $1.6 million instrument on loan to her from CID bank. Two days later she received an anonymous call that the cello was inside a car in front of her house. When she went outside she discovered it in the backseat of a car with a broken out window.