IU students scrubbed from Bela Fleck concert after union objects

  • Oct. 22, 2013

By Jon Blau

A flare-up with an Indianapolis union will keep Indiana University student musicians out of a concert with bluegrass artist Bela Fleck.

IU students were going to play 8 p.m. Oct. 30 at the IU Auditorium in place of the Nashville Symphony, which had cut its season short prior to the Fleck show because of financial problems. The executive board of the American Federation of Musicians voiced its displeasure with the swap, however, because it would have preferred one of its two member orchestras in Indianapolis had stepped in for what was once billed as a professional show.

The IU Auditorium notified ticket holders last week that students would no longer be a part of the show because of the union outcry; instead, Fleck will play a predominantly solo routine with appearances from his wife, clawhammer banjo player and singer Abigail Washburn.

But the change isn’t a sign the university agrees with the union, IU spokesman Mark Land said Monday.

“They don’t really have any standing in Bloomington,” Land said of AFM Local 3, which is based in Indianapolis but does claim some jurisdiction across the state, including points as far south as Harrison County. “But this could put our students in a difficult position, potentially having to cross a picket line or getting sideways with a union they might have to be a part of as professionals.

“By taking this action, we are by no means saying we agree with the position they are taking. We just didn’t want to put our students in a bad spot.”

Land said it’s “disappointing” that IU students lost an opportunity to workshop and play live on stage with a name like Fleck, but the union not only holds sway over the career of future Indiana musicians, it also has members who are faculty at IU.

The idea to sub students was proposed by Nashville’s conductor, Giancarlo Guerrero, and was advertised to ticket holders in July. Martin Hodapp, the secretary and treasurer for AFM Local 3, said the union’s board met and formally objected in early September because it believed this show could set a “dangerous precedent” if student performers, who are not paid at the level of union members, were allowed to stand in for professionals.

They may be losing a learning opportunity, but Hodapp argues these same students will one day be professionals competing for the wages his Indianapolis musicians covet.

“Students need to realize that one day, or their goal is one day, they will be professional musicians,” Hodapp said, “and our own livelihoods are at stake here.”

The IU Auditorium, on the other hand, was just trying to “salvage” the show once the Nashville Symphony orchestra dropped out, Land said. While Hodapp also criticized IU for not lowering the price after the loss of the Nashville Symphony -- tickets are currently selling at $23 to $49 for IU students or $44 to $59 for the general public -- Land said the auditorium had little to gain financially by going with student performers.

The Nashville orchestra would have cost the auditorium a lower “tour” rate. But when the orchestra canceled, separate renegotiations with Fleck and Guerrero had to take into consideration the extra time they would have spent prepping students.

The students would have been paid, too.

“Add to that the relatively low price of the tickets for a performer of this caliber,” Land said, “and this show wasn’t going to make the Auditorium any money.”

Editor's note: This story from The Bloomington Herald-Times is being published here as a courtesy for readers of IU in the News.