"Disney," wrote Donald Oliver, "is prepared to pay a "Media Buy-out" to the copyists who worked on The Lion King. This Buy-out covers new use for media not in existence when the original League/Union contract was negotiated, like internet, ring tones, mobile apps, etc. It's a flat fee which was newly negotiated by the League and the Union ... you're due $292.50 which can buy a fair amount of chicken-feed ... or Pampers."
"Mouse Money," I mused, reading the E-mail while leaning over the laptop in the kitchen, waiting for my espresso machine to sputter to a stop. I recalled the summer of 1992: I needed money. I had promised myself to confine my pianism to collaborative recitals; consequently, pit work, rehearsals, vocal coaching, and piano bars were no longer an option. I knew that it would be a grave professional mistake to assume once again the yoke of copying my colleagues' music. However, having turned away from Academe as a source of income to supplement commissions, and without sufficient commissions to cover expenses, I could not afford pride. I was compelled to return to music copying.
Don, one of my former private pupils, ran (along with Paul Holderbaum) a respected Broadway copying firm called Chelsea Music. Don heard that I needed work and was kind enough to find a place for me at one of his desks. I ended up working there for three years as a freelance proofreader and copyist for Broadway shows, films, recording projects, and cabaret acts.
Chelsea Music's office was a magnificent disaster in medias res. Everyone there knew that, despite the fact that work that was still coming in, the (nerve-wracking, intellectually exhausting, physically unhealthy) era of hand copying on Broadway was ending. The forlorn atmosphere (so different from the tweedy atmosphere of the Fleisher Collection years earlier, where I had also labored as a copyist) suited me. One wall consisted of grimy windows that looked north towards Columbus Circle. There was a battered spinet, pictures of the composers and performers for whom the shop had worked on another wall, file cabinets filled with musicians union invoices and contracts, shelves stacked with boxes of parts, conductor scores, and six desks for copyists. Several denizens were smokers, so a cloud of cigarette smoke blued the air. Combined with the smell of sweat, the dust generated by electric erasers, and the ammonia given off by the ozalid-printing machine in the corner, the air was toxic.
I was grateful to serve as a member of the music preparation staff (usually as a proofreader) for Broadway productions of Steel Pier, The Lion King and Les Miserables, as well as revivals of Cabaret, Annie, Chicago, and Andrew Lloyd Webber's Whistle Down the Wind for Really Useful's Washington production. I recall watching songs from the show, comprised of a melody line, lyrics by Meatloaf, chord symbols, and a bass line, come in on the fax machine. Most of the other projects blur together in my memory.
Chelsea handled Liza Minnelli's musical materials for her. She was putting together a new Vegas show. Since she was a client of such long standing, Don and Paul led the team themselves. Brian Fairtile, a professional horn player who had turned to copying for extra work and discovered a real gift for it, joined them. I proofread. We all wanted to see Minnelli, so we piled into a cab together and hand delivered the charts to the rehearsal hall next to the Port Authority bus terminal where she was scheduled to read them with a band made up of crack New York freelancers. "How-do-you-do's" and so forth over, she settled on to a stool, and the players sat back in their chairs.
For the first time, everyone started reading through the book together. John Kander had written something new for her. It clearly engaged her, because without warning she rose to her feet and became Liza Minnelli. Everyone in the room experienced a sudden charismatic, emotional ripple effect. The hair on my arms stood up. Every player sat bolt upright. Extraordinary.
The espresso machine stopped hissing. I poured it slowly over the steamed milk so as not to "bruise" it. I returned to the end of Don's E-mail: "There's no free lunch: In order to get this money, you must sign three forms and provide a CLEAR copy of your passport or other government ID (you know the routine) to prove your US Citizenship. For the Disney Copyists rate sheet, please just return page 1. For the I-9, please just return page 4. For the W-4, please just return page 1."
"And then," I thought, "the Mouse will not Roar but rather Cough Up."
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