Thursday, August 02, 2007

Orchestra as a democratic process

I went to the Pub with a bunch of people after the orchestra concert on Monday. It was a pretty good time, mostly because I really like talking to all of the people who were there. It also turned out to be an informative evening because one gentleman there turned out to be a vocal coach, so he had interesting opinions to share. He was actually more than willing to share his opinions when I asked, which was nice for me, but sort of killed all other conversation, which I felt bad about.

However this is not what currently interests me. My buddy A. who was a music major here just like I was contended that conductors should be done away with and replaced with robots. (comment I'm sure to be taken with a grain of salt)

My response was, well for performances fine, but what about the rehearsal process, this is when the conductor gets to work on his musical interpretation with the orchestra. (also, what I just thought of now is rehearsal management. A sign of a good conductor is one who knows how to make the most of their time in rehearsal, such that the orchestra can succeed in their performance, and still enjoy the rehearsal process)

A. Said that he thought that even there that a conductor was not necessary. He said that he thought that orchestras ought to be run through a democratic process, like the English parliament. "I think you should be louder here, I think I should be louder there" etc.

Now A. is an excellent musician, and also does Jazz. So this format would be very similar to how some jazz X-tets are run. However the X is usually 3-8 where as an orchestra can be 20-80 or even larger numbers. Oh! just imagine the rehearsals! It would be absolute chaos.

A. is also making I believe an assumption that the other musicians are as good musicians as he is. This is not a comment upon technical prowess, their ability to play well, but upon their musicality. I don't mean necessarily, their ability to "feel" the music, something that people I think confound the term musicality with frequently. But are they a good musician? Do they understand how music is constructed, how it works, and how best to demonstrate these attributes.

I would contend that in most orchestras that not every individual is a great musician, and of such a nature that collaboration for musical decisions would result in anything good at all. I think that in any orchestra that you will find a range of musicians, and as soon as everyone is not on an equal playing field I think that musical interpretation as a democratic process would fail.

Anyhow: funny how a snipit of conversation can spark your thoughts.


Ryan said...

I would point out that it doesn't always work in groups of 3-8, either. You have to have a group who works well together, even if that small, in order for the democratic process to function--and while I'm not denying that this is still true for a group of 20-80, you need them to work well together in fewer ways with a conductor than if you're doing things democratically.

ayn said...

Funny you mention that, Ryan...we actually stopped rotation rehearsal leaders for AO last year because nothing was getting done.

Emily, you make really nice points about these issues, and I agree with you. It's interesting to think about how there are different types of musicians. As I don't work collaboratively as often as I work solo, I haven't noticed it as much in my musicianship experience as I have in my dancing.

My friends Andrew pointed this out to me while i was in San Diego. Among dancers, you have those that are very technically gifted. Large vocabularly or small, they execute moves well and are comfortable. And then there are the dancers for whom musicality is really at the heart of what they're doing. Of course it helps if they do moves well, but know WHEN to do different moves during a song based on what's going on in the the music is just as important (and more fun) and than just knowing how to do them in time to the music.

Dad said...

There is of course the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra, which does just as you describe, and goes leaderless. I do believe that it has organization problems and I'm not even sure that it's still around.

Duff said...

That is why they invented the "one-man band." More substantive comments to follow.

Duff said...

Of course this reminds me of an idea that I told you a while ago that the various sections of an orchestra (violins vs. flutes vs. brass vs. french horns, etc.) ought to do battle on stage to see who is musically the most superior. And not lame "musical" battle, who is the better musician, but physical combat. WHILE STILL PLAYING THEIR MUSIC. Poison darts hidden in the flutes, cellos as bows, french horns as a place to sheepishly put your free hand. It would be both awesome and meaningful. And objective: who plays better, when you get to the upper echelons of music, may ultimately be a matter of taste: who beat the snot out of whom is empirically verifiable, and a hence meaningful, unarguable of who "rules" who it comes to music.

corey said...

Of course the benevolent dictatorship of an excellent conductor is preferred. But, one could imagine more of a representative version of the group, where first and second chairs are elected through the sections and served themselves to elect a conductor of prime ministerial powers to oversea the day to day functionings of the orchestra as well as serving as the commander and chief in times of war. But, strings sections would not be enamored with the proposal due to what they believe is an over representation of the brass and woodwind vote. But then they usually have the bows so far up their asses that they could fiddle their tonsils. All in all the brass should probably serve as an independently appointed board that would not be subject to chair auditions and be give oversight of inter-sectional conflicts, institutional policies, as well as determining the conductor whenever an election is contested. It is less well know that in this system, the French horns would be independent of these three organizational branches and can not be held responsible for those five viola players that disappeared last week and are definitely not in the steam pipe distribution room in the basement of the building being water boarded by members of the city youth orchestra. Definitely not. But even if they did, it would be an important and irreplaceable function needed to keep the orchestra in tune.

Sarah said...