Replacement musicians

In the early 20th century, the best paying gigs for musicians were in orchestras for silent films. More than 26,000 musicians were employed--many in 52 week positions. With the advent of the "talkies" near the end of the 20s, nearly all those jobs were lost despite the musician's unions fighting tooth and nail to keep musicians employed.

So Karen Blurch Blundell’s “An Open Letter to Young Orchestral Musicians” now has a whopping 160 replies on both sides of the divide regarding the main issue, namely whether to audition for the Louisville Orchestra now that it has finally made an official public statement to hire a replacement orchestra.

Sad thing is, I’ve had many personal conversations with musicians that stand on both side of the fence such that none of what is said in the comments is particularly new territory (on either side).

I wouldn’t be surprised if LOI succeeded in hiring a new orchestra.  Whether or not the organization lasts beyond the subsequent season is a differently matter altogether and I would bet on it not doing so.

I’d really been wanting to post about the issue of replacement musicians ever since the Kentucky Opera opted to use musicians mostly comprised of community membersfor their recent production of The Merry Widow but just haven’t had the time (nor, frankly, the energy) to do so.

Ballet dancers, Kristopher Wojtera and Erica De La O, dancing to Ben Sollee at the 21c Museum.

However, setting aside the possibility of being blacklisted, fined, or ostracized by the Orchestral and Classical Music community, since it’s obvious that those threats will not work for any number of musicians as the Richardson Symphony and Kentucky Opera events show, I think most musicians would be ill advised to take the audition as the track-record of how the LOI board and management have negotiated (or failed to do so, as we could say) doesn’t seem to be favorable to career goals of musicians.

That’s probably an understatement, but I do generally prefer to take the fox’s road rather than the hedgehog’s.  And we sure have more than our fair share of hedgehog’s in today’s world, right!

The issue is that in today’s world, there are just far too many alternatives.  Ballet Companies can use recorded music; Opera companies can use piano and harpsichord accompaniments rather than full orchestras.  Collaborative idiosyncratic pieces can be developed with smaller ensembles such as the one playing Ben Sollee’s Sansei for the Louisville Ballet (see video below) which will be showing at this weekend’s 60 year celebration of the Louisville Ballet.  Sansei, developed by Mikelle Bruzina will be performed by Mr. Sollee and his small ensemble which will be the only live musicians performing at the event–the rest of the concert will be performed to recorded music.

Too many options, which is both a good thing and a bad thing.  It can spawn wonderful new colaborative works, like Sansei, or it can spawn terribly destructive practices, like employing non-professional musicians simple for the fact that they are willing to undercut.

As I said, I have much to say, but still have little energy (and time) to say it.  I probably should have just taken John Cage to heart and simply said:

“I have nothing to say

and I am saying it

and that is poetry

as I needed it”


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