Reeding Is Instrumental

Here we are two months into this dastardly lockout and fans like myself are getting worried that the petty squabble between these two groups of whiney, overpaid crybabies will result in a cancellation of the entire season. I think I’m not alone when I entreat both sides to get back to the bargaining table and work out their differences. I mean, come on! What do they expect us to do with our winter nights, read? …earn a living? …spend them with loved ones? Pssh.

If you’re a rabid right-wing surmiser, you have already surmised what I am talking about. Die-hards like myself know that it’s just not going to be winter without the Minnesota and St. Paul Chamber Orchestras. Unfortunately, most people don’t care about the lockout because, much like the case with the NHL lockout, they find all the banging, the crashing, and exchanging of blows rather tedious—not to mention the low number of scores at each event.

Musicians in these ensembles recently rejected a proposal by management to cut their base salaries from over $110,000 to under $78,000 per year, which has the public asking the question, “Orchestra musicians make how much?” The top brass has had no choice but to lock out these horny treble-makers, which basically means the players can no longer toot their own horn. This has them all jazzed up and their conductors looking for work on the light rail. And the Fraternal Twin Cities are not alone in having to face this harsh reality. Indianapolis, Detroit, Atlanta, Baltimore, St. Louis, Jacksonville and others have also had to admit to its citizenry that they too have orchestras.

I realize that unlike a Kardashian marriage, this may not be at the top of the average American’s list of concerns, since their knowledge of the symphony is generally limited to “if it ain’t baroque” puns and cell-o pudding. Nor do they have any idea how to pronounce the word ‘bass’ unless it is followed by ‘fishing.’

But it’s this type of indifferent public apathy that has led to much of the sax and violins we have in our symphonies today. One article I read claimed that the musicians in Minneapolis and St. Paul warn of a “dangerous decline in artistic quality” if they were to accept management’s pay-cuts, a statement that has the Hyperbole Police on full alert. If declining artistic quality were truly dangerous, Justin Beiber would be Public Enemy Number One. And while my knowledge of orchestras is admittedly limited to their maneuvers in the dark in the 80s, I do know that anything written for them symphonically after 1900 is already more jumbled and confusing than a Joe Biden speech and shouldn’t be played anyway.

Like The Simpsons, orchestras and labor strife have been with us almost since the beginning of civilization. In fact, they have similar roots in that both originated in ancient Egypt. We all know that Big Labor has a past more checkered than an Italian tablecloth, and I’m sure I do not have to recount the story of the famed prototypical union boss, Moses, who staged an enormous walk-out following a series of gruesome strong-arm intimidation tactics.

Lesser known however, is the origin of orchestras. They began at the point where–as any advance civilization is prone to do–the Egyptians realized they lacked a cause for which to hold black-tie fundraisers. So the people who strummed and banged things together on the street approached the Egyptian society mucky-mucks to see if instead of wasting their resources on things like feeding the poor, they would consider building them an ornate venue in which they could charge them even more money to hear them strum and bang, albeit in tuxedos. The mucky-mucks ponied up the rocks and thus not only created the first list of misplaced municipal priorities, but also unwittingly invented a euphemism for doing so.

After the first few centuries of percussion-only orchestra concerts, wind instruments were added, many of which were named by putting ‘-phone’ after the inventor’s name, e.g. Sax, Sousa, Tele, i, etc. This had the unexpected result of patrons exclaiming, “This really blows!” in the midst of concerts, a tradition that exists to this day though the meaning has somewhat evolved.

Today there are many different types of orchestras ranging from a very few artists to those whose membership is more numerous than the Baldwin Brothers. Minneapolis and St. Paul have ‘chamber’ orchestras meaning they are smaller and sleeker than ‘symphony’ or ‘philharmonic’ orchestras, which can be quite sizable ensembles that have the capability of putting upwards of 1200 people asleep at one time.

We need you, symphony orchestras. It’s time to admit that your (music) stand is largely cymballic. Stop Haydn, get a Handel on your Liszt of demands, and get Bach to work.

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