Musical Chairs in New York, NEW YORK TIMES, by Gabriel Cohen

July 28, 2014

This is a very special article , which answers many questions for many readers and players. I am publishing it verbatim.

 

 

Beneath the stage of Broadway’s Al Hirschfeld Theater lies a dark space with a low ceiling — a cross between a suburban rec room and a submarine. Shortly before each performance of “Kinky Boots,” 13 black-clad musicians file to their battle stations, each illuminated by a small light attached to a music stand. The expectant buzz of the audience filters down from a narrow opening at the edge of the stage.

As at any Broadway show, the musicians in the “Kinky Boots” pit are expected to play flawlessly for two-plus hours — even those who are sitting in for what may be the first time. During a recent Sunday matinee of the hit show, for instance, four of the musicians were substitutes, called in and asked to unobtrusively join a band grooving at the top of its game. After all, even Broadway musicians may want to take vacations, or spend the summer touring with Sting or the Rolling Stones.

“Subbing is a bit nerve-racking,” said Ann Klein, 52, who replaced Michael Aarons, the regular “Kinky Boots” guitarist, twice in July. Ms. Klein has worked as a replacement on Broadway for five years, in five different shows. She has a career as a singer-songwriter and will pick up work on tour with other artists. But substituting on Broadway pays pretty well — like regulars, subs earn union scale, $227.42 per performance — if you can deal with the high stakes. “You don’t have the luxury of rehearsing with the band,” Ms. Klein said. “So it’s scary.”

 

Brian Usifer, the music director and first keyboardist for “Kinky Boots,” conducting during a recent Sunday matinee performance at the Al Hirschfeld Theater. Credit Emon Hassan for The New York Times
“Once,” Jeff Schiller, another “Kinky Boots” sub, recalled, “I got a call half an hour into a show, when a regular was experiencing incredible kidney stone pain.” Luckily, Mr. Schiller, who goes by the nickname Houndog, lives near the theater district. He swapped in between numbers in the middle of Act One.

Thankfully, this kind of quick-change routine is rare. Most subs get some notice before they have to step in.

Mr. Schiller, 55, has filled in on more than 40 Broadway shows, including “Phantom of the Opera” and “The Book of Mormon,” and he says that most productions follow a similar system. Each regular musician is required to name five possible substitutes, who learn their parts through a process called “watching the book.”

“If there’s room,” Mr. Schiller said, “you go in and sit in the pit and make a recording of the regular.” Then the subs go home and play along.

A regular works eight performances a week, but subs can do more if they’re playing in more than one show at a time. Indeed, Mr. Schiller has had 10-performance weeks. Part of what puts him in such demand is that he’s proficient on saxophone, flute, clarinet and a raft of other instruments. This flexibility, known as doubling, opens him to a wider range of work — not to mention extra pay.

Unfortunately, there’s a major downside to the sub lifestyle: There’s no guarantee of when you’ll play next. Mr. Schiller averages two or three jobs a week, but there are weeks when he gets none. That’s why he and Ms. Klein would love to receive regular chairs.
As recently as the late 1980s, playing in a Broadway musical was not considered the most desirable gig for a musician. Most professionals sought better-paying work in jingles and recording sessions. But as that work dried up, due in part to samplers and digital-audio software, the ace musicians gravitated toward theaters near Times Square.

But just as the competition for spots in a live Broadway orchestra has increased, the pit itself has contracted.

“The average number of full-timers per show has gone down by half since the 1950s and ’60s,” said Robert Meffe, director of music at San Diego State University, the author of a paper on the shrinking pit orchestra and himself a former sub.

According to Local 802 of the American Federation of Musicians, there are only 349 full-time players on Broadway now. That means that all players — regulars and subs alike — must be in top form. “There’s a lot of pressure,” Martha Hyde, a frequent substitute, acknowledged.

“I subbed on ‘Matilda’ today — mostly flute,” said Ms. Hyde, who has been doing this work since 1988. “Tomorrow I’m playing second clarinet and second flute on ‘Phantom,’ and the next evening I’m playing alto sax and lots of clarinet solos on ‘Chicago.’ ”

“It’s a little bit like landing an F-14,” she added.

“But your job is not to stick out or make a big statement. You emulate the regular; you have to be willing to be a chameleon.”

Brian Usifer, 33, the music director, conductor and first keyboardist for “Kinky Boots,” makes sure his subs fit in. Every replacement starts in an audition phase. On a sub’s first night, though, he tends to allow the occasional error to pass. “It’s O.K. if a few mistakes happen early,” he said. “It breaks the tension.”

 

Also substituting in the orchestra that afternoon was Ann Klein, on guitar. “Subbing is a bit nerve-racking,” Ms. Klein said. “You don’t have the luxury of rehearsing with the band.”
Both cast and orchestra can see him in the video monitors, he noted, saying: “I try not to show it in my face if something goes wrong. But when you have a sub who is good and who everybody likes, I don’t have to worry about them.”

Though the pressure and lack of job security are challenging, Ms. Hyde sees some advantages to subbing. “It forces you to keep your skills razor sharp,” she said, “and you play with more people.” That can mean more contacts for future jobs.

Even so, most subs supplement their Broadway stints with other work. Mr. Schiller has worked as a composer, arranger, touring musician, copyist and instructor. Ms. Hyde is a member of a chamber trio called the New River Ensemble, which sometimes plays live to silent films by Charlie Chaplin or Buster Keaton.

The route to a regular gig is not predictable, as seniority does not necessarily determine who gets those jobs. Contractors, hired by producers to put together orchestras in tandem with music directors, make those decisions, and personal connections can trump other factors.

Despite the competition, Ms. Hyde says that she has found much camaraderie on Broadway. She has been a regular four times, in shows including “Kiss of the Spider Woman” and “1776.” Whenever she gets a chair, she hands out sub slots to musicians who have helped her in the past, but also makes an effort to aid hopefuls. “If no one gives the new people a chance,” she said, “they can’t break in.”

Tino Gagliardi certainly broke in: He played trumpet in and out of Broadway pits for 30 years, as a sub and as a regular, and now he’s president of Local 802. “Being a sub is far more difficult than being a regular,” Mr. Gagliardi said. “Regulars only have to know one book.”

“Once,” he said, “I was subbing on five different shows and was so busy that I actually walked into the wrong theater. It’s a very hard way to make a living.”

But those F-14s still need replacement pilots. The goal, as Ms. Hyde put it, is “to make it as seamless as possible.”

“If the other musicians across the pit don’t notice that there’s someone different playing the part,” she said, “you’ve done your job.”


Metropolitan Opera being forced to strike

July 19, 2014

Deep salary cut demands, which its unions say are unjustified, and a company threat to close down at least temporarily, are combining to force members of the 16 unions at New York City’s Metropolitan Opera to plan to strike.
Contracts will be expiring July 31.

One Met union, the American Guild of Musical Artists, is warning its members the Met may lock workers out if it doesn’t get its way.

Met General Manager Peter Gelb demands $180 million in pay cuts from the unions, Musicians Local 802
Gelb says the $180 million equals a 16 percent pay cut. In radio interviews, he portrays the unions as refusing to give back even a penny of pay. And the Guardian reported another Gelb threat: That the Met would have to file for bankruptcy protection within three years unless it got its way

The unions reply they’re willing to sit down with Gelb to discuss cost-cutting measures. The Met ran a $2.8 million deficit last year, on a $311 million budget. But they say cuts can easily occur elsewhere.

 

This is only the latest in the troubling situation in live music in the US. The Metropolitan Opera is the most influential in the world today. It many syndicated works are shown throughout the country in movie theaters country-wide.

Its orchestra is certainly one of the best in the US, if not the entire world. The best instrumentalists, all woodwinds , make their living playing in this great orchestra.With the Philadelphia Orchestra filing for bankruptcy, and the continuing deficit situation in many US orchestras, the future for all musicians wishing to work in a professional situation is indeed bleak .

The burgeoning numbers of instrumentalists does not abate, the Graduate Schools continue to pour out superb players.

So, perhaps a bit of advice from an aging clarinetist may be in order. Consider well the advantages of playing in a great orchestra, and weigh the situation against    raising a family, touring, and existing in a lessor organization, where your enormous body of work may turn into  sheer frustration and even poverty. There are many avenues available within the business and beauty of music.

I share your sorrow at learning almost daily, of orchestras having to cut back, literally hundreds of clarinetists  auditioning for very few available positions. You are gifted and you should be able to exist well in our world.

 

Stay alert, keep practicing and the very best of good luck in your pursuits.

 

sherman


Quebec Family Ministry threatens school for autistic children

July 17, 2014

Quebec threatens school for autistic children  (Nathan Friedland)

“Pre-school for autistic children in jeopardy” July 16 2014.
I was first introduced to autism 32 years ago when I went to the Mackay Center for two years as part of their fabulous reverse integration program which enables children without disabilities to learn about life with those who are disabled. It was during those two years that I learned about empathy, respect, and how to think outside the box in order to help people. In my second year in the school, after careful consideration by my teachers, I was “buddied” with an autistic boy with the hopes that I could somehow bring him out of his shell. Even at the age of 12, I found that being with disabled children, especially my autistic friend, was life affirming. I learned that exceptional children need exceptional care and that no matter what people might think or say, helping people is what matters.
After seeing the “Little Red Playhouse” story, watching the children play and learn because of the wonderful attention they receive, I was reminded of my youth and why we sometimes must fight for what we believe in because it is right.
Clearly, the “Little Red Playhouse” (LRP) is not a regular school, but neither is the Mackay Center. One has to wonder if the LRP’s students were “regular” would the Quebec’s Family Ministry be entertaining unknown complaints that likely have no merit? After hearing testimony from parents whose children attend the school, how can the Ministry’s representative Nadia Caron site “risks to the safety and security of the children” as a reason that her bosses can’t tolerate the situation.
What we have here is a brave mother (Sharon McCarry) who thought outside the box and made a school that helps children and their families who the government didn’t think of. The Family Ministry needs to make an exception and grant her a permit to operate and remember that their definition of a normal child might not be the same as everyone else’s.

Nathan Friedland RN


“An offer he couldn’t refuse”

July 12, 2014

My father was dying. The most important valve in his body – his aortic valve which allowed oxygenated blood to be pumped to his brain and other organs – was severely damaged and was barely opening enough to allow him to stay awake perhaps 5 hours a day. A baseball lover, he couldn’t stay awake long enough to watch a game. He couldn’t concentrate or walk and after surviving a terrible winter complete with a bout of bacteremia (a blood infection), severe heart failure, two falls and a heart attack, he was referred to the Ottawa Heart Institute where we met a cardiologist named Dr Labinaz.
Ironically enough, my father, who loves the film “The Godfather”, was given an offer he couldn’t refuse. Either he would die in a few months from the damaged valve which would continue to close or, he could get a new pig valve inserted into his heart via a relatively new procedure called a TAVI (transcatheter aortic valve insertion). Only a decade ago, the only way patients could get a new aortic valve was with open heart surgery, the problem: there was no way my father could survive that extensive a procedure; he was just too sick. The TAVI meant that he would have the valve inserted via the artery in his leg and it would be pushed up to exactly the right spot where it would open, pushing the old valve out of the way, allowing the precious oxygenated blood to flow properly and perhaps save his life. Of course, he accepted the offer.
In a procedure that can be compared to changing spark plugs on engine without opening the hood of the car, the TAVI worked. The Ottawa Heart Institute and Dr. Labinaz were incredible. During the procedure, my dad’s artery – the tube through which the valve was inserted – ruptured. He lost a lot of blood very quickly and needed what can be described as “an oil change”. There was no stroke, no paralysis and he was only in the ICU for 36 hours. It was unbelievable.
Yesterday, we watched the entire Toronto Blue Jays baseball game together. We cheered for Bautista and Encarnacion, the Jays lost, but it didn’t matter. Thanks to the Ottawa Heart Institute, Dr. Labinaz and the amazing nurses that took such great care of him, my dad is back! (yes, dear folks, that’s me. sf)

Nathan Friedland RN


Just a dog,but on July 1,in Quebec,danger lurks!

June 29, 2014

Stubborn yet smart, gullible yet loyal, he doesn’t have an I-phone, he doesn’t drive a car, yet we can always, always count on him. He is predictable and trustworthy, he loves routine and a secure environment, he asks for so little yet gives so much more in return. He adores children, especially our daughter, who he pulls on a sled on the coldest days of the year. Temperatures of -30 don’t affect him while he insists on climbing the highest snow mountains he can find as his “master” watches while freezing despite wearing three layers of clothing. He loves to sit in front of the pellet stove with his cat as he pulls clumps of ice from his paws in anticipation of his next walk. In the summer he loves Bar-B-Que’d hot-dogs and never complains if they are burned. He has made friends in the neighborhood who refer to him as “beau chien” and he is allowed to play in their backyards. He has a best friend “Romeo” who he looks for everyday just as a child does when school is over. We value him as if he was our son even though our boy golden retriever “Toffee” is just a dog.
Many Montrealers feel this way about their pets yet, every “Moving Day” (July 1st), over a thousand animals are abandoned largely due to restrictive no pet clauses in residential leases. This leaves thousands of Quebecers with a gut wrenching choice to make when moving day arrives. In order to find rental housing that meets their needs, do they part with their beloved pets? Judging by the latest statistics, the answer unfortunately is yes as the SPCA receives almost 1600 pets this time of year, a number almost triple their usual monthly intake.
Quebecers are not the only ones who love their pets and are faced with this agonizing decision. In 2006 Ontario’s Residential Tenancies act was amended and the “no pets” provision was made null and void because it was deemed unreasonable and unfair. Loosely translated, a landlord in Ontario cannot evict a tenant just because he or she has a pet even if the tenant signed a lease with a “no pets” clause as long as the pet is a good tenant. Why then, is Quebec not following this example?
Fortunately, we can take action. The SPCA recently launched the “Keeping families together” (www.stoppetabandonment.com) campaign in hopes that if enough people support it, things will change.
Although it is sad to say, the no pets clause is not the only reason we abandon our pets. Sometimes, we are just negligent and forget that a pet is a life-long responsibility just like a child is. For anyone out there who is considering abandoning your pet, I urge you not to. An animal’s life is just as valuable as a human’s and I believe Montreal is a good enough place that it realizes this. If Mahatma Ghandi was correct and “The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated”, then Montreal has a chance to show it can progress by taking better care of  its most vulnerable.

Nathan Friedland


“if we don’t have support for Music Education, what do we have”?

June 25, 2014

 

Glen Dicterow,  concertmaster of the NY Philharmonic is retiring.
The open, empty violin case backstage at Avery Fisher Hall stood as a stark reminder that Glenn Dicterow, the longest-serving concertmaster in the history of the New York Philharmonic, would retire after Saturday night’s concert. It awaited the return of the 1727 Guarneri del Gesù violin that the Philharmonic had lent him as its first among equals.

It has been 34 years since Mr. Dicterow became the Philharmonic’s concertmaster, or principal first violinist. When he leaves to devote himself to teaching, he will have held the position for 6,033 performances; played as a soloist in 219 concerts; helped transmit the wishes of four music directors and more than 200 other conductors; and toured in 174 cities in 51 countries, lugging his belongings in an old trunk that once belonged to Leonard Bernstein.

“It’s going to be a tough Saturday night,” Mr. Dicterow, 65, said in an interview this week in his studio, as he prepared for a series of final performances of Beethoven’s Triple Concerto, running through Saturday, with the pianist Yefim Bronfman and the orchestra’s principal cellist, Carter Brey. “The last one. Saying goodbye.”

Audiences know the concertmaster as the violinist who sits to the conductor’s left, leading the orchestra as it tunes up and playing solos. But behind the scenes, concertmasters can wield power to shape an orchestra’s sound — which is why they are the best-paid players in orchestras. (Mr. Dicterow was paid $523,647 in 2011, according to the Philharmonic’s most recent tax filing.)

“Music, and the music business, have both changed quite a bit since Mr. Dicterow made his New York Philharmonic debut in 1967, at 18, performing Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto in a concert led by Andre Kostelanetz. (A review in The New York Times said that he had “blended talent and immaturity in his performance.”)

Mr. Dicterow said that playing had changed, to some extent. “It’s a given that you’re supposed to play perfectly, virtuosically,” he said. “But maybe there’s a bit of the generic quality in music making — people don’t have as much individual style. I think that’s just a product of the age we live in.”

He seemed genuinely taken aback when talking about the 2011 bankruptcy of the Philadelphia Orchestra and the current labor woes at the Metropolitan Opera, which is seeking to cut costs. And he lamented the disappearance of music education and the lack of government support for music. If we don’t have that, what do we have?


 

But he said that he was looking forward to moving back to California — his father played in the Los Angeles Philharmonic for 52 years — to hold the Robert Mann Chair in Strings and Chamber Music at the University of Southern California Thornton School of Music. And he said that while he would miss the Philharmonic, he would not miss the stress of sitting in the first chair.

Mr. Dicterow recalled a pep talk he received from a friend who had retired from the orchestra, who told him that he would enjoy listening to music without the responsibility. “He said that on the stage, you hear more or less what’s around you,” he said. “He said that it’s great to sit back and not worry about things — bringing people in or playing solos.THE NY TIMES


The Varia of clarinet materials

June 22, 2014

DSCF1071 DSCF1063Having noticed a veritable cornucopia of clarinet materials being marketed, it would seem proper to list all of the various instruments which I have owned or played and their comparative qualities.

The oldest instrument was a Selmer full boehm metal clarinet , # 406, from the late 20s. It was sent to me in a decrepit case, actually falling apart. The sender wanted an appraisal and I replied that I couldn’t make such an appraisal without playing the instrument. So, we worked out an arrangement wherein I would completely restore the instrument to playing condition, which I did, with the following results: the clarinet played absolutely beautifully, with an exceptionally facile altissimo. I brought it into Twigg Music in Montreal to purchase a new case and played it for them, and frankly they were very impressed with both the look of the instrument, it size. the bore being very much narrower than a wooden instrument. It was rather shocking to me. This is the very same model which Gaston Hamelin played first clarinet in the Boston Symphony. It was the instrument that the conductor ,Serge Koussevitsky, disapproved of strongly.The contract was not renewed.
Hamelin went back to France, taking several soon-be-prominent players with him, notably Ralph Maclain, who became principal in the Philadelphia and founded the so-called American school of the clarinet. One of his students was Harold Wright, Principal in the Boston orchestra and probably the most individual sound of the instrument ever to be heard. By those comments I mean to say , that late in his career and even as early as his time as principal with the National Symphony in Wash. D.C., his sound and presentation were much more like those of a great soprano, perhaps someone like Jessye Norman, or Renee Fleming, an individual presentation which entered and continued to the delight of his audiences. (Please hear his Mozart Concerto withe BSO on this site, it is without any of the cliched holding of certain notes at the beginning of a run,or a childish attempt at phrasing Mozart, adding ornaments. This work and Wrights works is literally perfect.

Back to clarinet materials, having said that the early Selmer metal instruments were superb, and having played one of these early instruments,let us go the early instruments made of Boxwood, those with the usual three keys. I had a set made for me by a maker in NY, and they had excellent quaiity, and I must confrss that I played them with a contemporary mouthpiece for my best results. I toured Nova Scotia with a trio called the Mannheim Trio, with Valerie Kinsslow, soprano, and Boyd MacDonald , fortepiano. We played “Parto Parto”, by Mozart, from La Clemenza Di Tito. I cannot qualify the sound or the respnse exactly, but here were instuments with which you had use various harmonic fingerings for certain chromatics. I later had some extra keys added. This in the time of the burgeoning practice of playing all on original instruments.

There was acute pun going around:” What do you do with a BAroque Cello?”FIX IT”

Moving forward, the plastic clarinet made its presence known with the appearance of the Resonite Clarinet by Selmer. There was a cute visual ad of a 1947 Studebaker, you know the one that seemed to be going in both directions at once. There was a larger clarinet joint under each of the four tires holding the car about a foot off the ground. Maybe some remember it.
This was the Selmer version of plastic. All the other makers followed suit, the Yamaha being the most prolific. That clarinet is now number 250, going along with a price, however the is no clarinet made of plastic which has any particular quality of response other than strident. I own a 250, with the prior number, which I believe was 95, though I cannot be sure. This type pf plastic or bakelite or resonite iincludes the Buffet Greenline, made of carbon fibres. Not only is it price the same as the Buffet wooden instrument, it can shatter and break quite easily.

Ultimately, we come to the grenadilla, or sometimes called the mpingo, the most proular material. If you reach back into your memory, you will recall a time of considerable wanting of a clarinet made from grenadilla.
The manufacture of this instrument is most difficult since the wood changes with the temperature, has tedency to crack, all of the joints shrinking and swelling with the change in temperature, and humidity.
At a school where I taught briefly, they had a full time tech. who did nothing but unfreeze barrels from tne top joints of clarinets. Play on a new clarinet in a band rehearsal for several hours at a time and you will even have some instructors directing their student to leave the barrel pulled out a bit, regardless of changes in pitch.
In your youth you learned to want a wooden clarinet. You loved your first one, especially if it had silver plated keys and had a case like your teachers, black with a fitted cover. I certainly did, almost anxiously waiting for the time. Do I remember any special sound or respond it had? It had none, except that which I imparted into the horn with my breath, reed and mouthpiece. And, at whatever level of proficiency I had reached.. There was always a great deal more to accomplish, and it is still constant. One is never finished learning.

Going into various other of the more rarer woods, I have been told by the designer and clarinetmaker, William Ridenour, that cocobolo is almost an impossible wood to work. His only suggestion w as that all of these should be lined with rubber, similar to some bassoons.

Late in the 50s or 60s, Selmer produced its unique model called the “Recital”. Frequently call the FAT Clarinet, it had a narrower bore and a thicker body, resuling is a fine and weighty response. But with any other mouthpiece than the C85, which seemed to be made for the Recital, the tuning was faulty, though quite a lovely response.

I donated my set my University.

All of the above have developed into clarinets having astronomical prices, out of the reach of most if not all families with a clarinet student.I counseled many students to purchase brands at lesser prices, simply because they were good as the more expensive instruments.

And where would there studies lead them? Employment for serious clarinetists is diminishing by the week, if not the day. By the time your parents finished paying for the instrument, it s on the shelf in your closet.

I leave the instrument made from hard rubber or ebonite for last. The reasons are clear. There is an abundance of rubber, a natural substance throughout the world. It is one of the most pliable materials to machine. It is far more stable in pitch and dimension than any wooden clarinet.Because of these reasons it is far easier to produce and to finish, making its acquisition much simpler.

Does any clarinet have an actual sound? NO. A clarinet is an inanimate object. Only you can turn into a beautiful instrument for making music with your acquired knowledge of repertoire, formation and mentorship of someone who knows what it is supposed to sound like.

The varia is most amazing , the results mostly the same.

stay well.

sherman


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