Starving Music by Cutting Music Education.
For the past several years symphony Orchestras in North American have been disappearing or diminishing in size or in some unusual cases, actually going bankrupt, which is my understanding of the Philadelphia Orchestra. To me, this is the strangest thing, for I grew up listening to this orchestra’s many recordings, getting to know each of the woodwinds by name. We all had our opinions, but knew only the hearsay spoken by young students to one another. We could identify their sounds easily, their style, knew their instruments, and could probably pick out who was playing what part in a particular recorded work. But, I have never been to Philadelphia, never heard the orchestra in person,except once when they came to play in Symphony Hall in Boston. That was particularly memorable because the second clarinetist(Serpentini) developed food poisoning. The work for the evening was Ein Heldenleben. by Richard Strauss. A dear friend, the late Phil Viscuglia was called at the last minute to play the solo second part and sight read it flawlessly.
To learn that the Philadelphia Orchestra has filed for bankruptcy is unimaginable. But, it is only the mere tip of the iceberg. The diminution of orchestras, salaries, and season seems epidemic throughout North America. Musicians discuss this endlessly, usually accompanied by a wringing of hands, and a discussion as to what is happening to create tis collapsing of more than an entire industry, an actual end of classical music. It is very true, actually happening, and has been a case of self mutilation, for, are we creating our own ending?
There are many responses to the question. Due to factors inside and out of our industry, we have stopped feeding classical music. In the US and in Canada, so-called Classical Music has been an acquired discipline.
As a young high school student, we had chamber music concerts several times a year during classes. Yes, we called it Gas Chamber Music, but, at the very least we were given time in the auditorium to actually see and hear music. There was usually an explanation by one of the musicians, and then, we would hear the music. Personally, I remember a great event: The head of Music in the town of Brookline, Mass, was named Luther Burbank, (believe it or not.)(The other Luther Burbank, was a famous botanist).
Back to Mr. Burbank,. head of music in Brookline. He came in to the auditorium one day. There was long black and shiny piano on the stage. I had never seen a piano that large. He sat down and played the most beautiful thng I had ever heard. He played Clair de Lune,by Claude Debussy. It was my first time, and I still remember getting dizzy as he played. In retrospect, it seemed like a beautiful drug, and I just closed my eyes and was swept away.In our school, our city was constantly being fed classical music on a regular basis. Not just those afflicted with its love, but those halls were filled with young students. It was well known that this kind of music was not liked by all, but , it was considered as being something very good. An enrichment.
To begin with, the above is no longer the case. And, because of increased costs, music has been the first to go, replaced by any number of other less costly “enrichments”. Fewer students hearing good music means fewer parents attending concerts. Diminishing attendance means less money coming in and less of an incentive for the yearly donations that help keep the symphonic industry alive and well.As costs have risen, budgets are cut as well, and because of less interest in music, it became ideal to cut music.And it was and is.
Adding to fewer students attending concerts,one of the most important factors in a consideration of the diminishing orchestra, is the competition between recorded and live music. The recording industry has improved exponentially. In the beginning there was one recording of each Beethoven symphony and many other works of Classical Music. Then came stereophonic sound, then the long playing record and then tape and the arrival of digital recording, These superb recordings and the technology that produced them, meant for a severe and increasing competition between live and recorded music. Why buy an expensive concert ticket to hear a program of Richard Strauss and Stravinsky when you can purchase a beautiful recording of the same music. And the recording themselves sound so much better on that wonderful setup for which you have paid a fortune. And it sounds better in your own living room than it does in the Hall. The reason for this is that the recording emphasizes the major parts of the work and that clarinet solo sound so much purer and present in your riving room. No driving and no parking either. In the days past, the only way you could get a season ticket for the Boston Symphony was , to inherit one/the concerts were completely sold out.
During a professional recording of an orchestra, a great deal of mixing , both electronically and physically is achieved through the manipulation of the various electronic controls and the actual separation of the players. In a typical Boston Symphony recording, the audience seats are removed and the players are widely separated in pairs of like instruments and in sections. Each of the various small groupings has one or several microphones. This is precisely the reason that the clarinet solo on a particular recording is so much more vibrant and even present than when heard in the hall itself. One may ask oneself, “why is the clarinet , (or whatever instrument “, so much more present on the recording than in the concert hall? It is the recording and the various methods as mentioned above. This is competition with oneself. The performance competes with the recorded session.
If one is presented with a choice or a recoding or a performance , this choice diminishes the audience, certainly proven by the disappointing statistics in the numbers of those buying concert tickets/ Of course, the cutting of music classes in the K through 12 grades is pure starvation for Classical or any kind of Art Music. Continuing in the saga of the practice of performance, one must consider the practice of sampling, in which musicians record their instrumental sounds for a fee. These samples are then juxtaposed by synthesizer and any sound produced by any instrument can be reproduced easily. It is virtually the same as the competition presented by recordings, but even more pronounced. If I permit recorded samples of my playing, that sound can be reproduced rather easily on a keyboard of a “synth” as they are called.
We are subjected to examples of this competition with ourselves on a daily , almost continuous basis. Sometimes it is difficult to ascertain what one is listening to, a player or a synthesizer.
The Concertmaster of a major symphony actually could not understand how a player could play pizzicato as fast as he heard it on a recording, until he was told that it was , in fact , a” synth”.
I played the Bavicchi Clarinet Concerto with a regional symphony Orchestra near Chicago. Included with the Concerto was the Overture to Donna Diana, first on the program. Just about everyone in he orchestra called that work the “parking Lot Overture”. Certainly that Overture which we all recognize as the theme music for the very popular “Sargent Preston”. by Emil Nickolaus Von Reznicek, composed in 1894. It is somehow hurtful to think of that piece, or the show or VON Reznicek as the “Parking Lot Overture”. But, it is commentary on this world, Classical Music and the state of the art.
Does one need any further proof as to why concert audiences, symphony orchestras are smaller and smaller and are disappearing? It is above. It is here. Can it be fixed? It has been most of my life, the lives of countless others who play, and (formerly) millions of avid anxious excited listeners. It is and has never been a case of what is good and what is less good in the composition. If our children cannot hear and be taught music, the cutting of Music Education is the source of its ending.