From the Orchestra Library

Just Like the Old Days

Posted in Organizational Effectiveness by kschnack on September 13, 2009

There’s a great moment in the recent movie incarnation of James Bond — Casino Royale — when M, played by Judi Dench, delivers a withering tirade against her new double O for his latest fiasco.  She says how much she misses the Cold War when an agent who displayed such lack of judgment and disdain for how things were supposed to be done would have had “the good sense to defect.”

I know just how she feels.

Of course, the “old days” were never as golden as people remember, and we often forget how much easier so many things are these days, mostly due to advances in nearly every industry through technology.  And I’m loving learning new skills and how to think about things in new ways all the time.  But I do sometimes miss how things Used To Be in certain situations, the old-school ways of doing some things. Everybody knew the unwritten rules, to not follow them “just wasn’t done” and you could count on things being a particular way.

In our kind of work, these were such things as orchestral parts being the proper size with a predictable number of staves on the page depending on whether it was a popular chart or classically-composed music.  You never had to explain to anyone how big to make the page or the notes — everyone just knew.  There were no 8.5. x 11 parts.  (That doesn’t mean they were always legible, I admit.)  Orchestras sight read more, especially for pops.  (Again, admittedly, this wasn’t always comfortable for the players.)  The books would roll in with the band, and the road manager or conductor knew what went where.  Charts were in order or, if there was a change, the order would be announced at rehearsal and you played the show down without worrying about order sheets.  In the rehearsals the conductor hit the tricky spots, starts and stops with the orchestra alone, and then after an hour the artist would arrive and go through a couple of tunes as a warm-up.  Everybody would break for dinner and come back to do the show.  At the end, the books were packed up with the rest of the trunks and went with the band to the next city.

No shipping, no panicking, no mucking about.  There was an understanding from the artists that the orchestra players were pros and respected that they would get the job done.  Oftentimes, when the artist did a return date even years later, the same guys were in the band and the orchestra musicians would remember them and everyone would catch up on what each other had been doing since they last played together.

Most of the time it doesn’t feel like that anymore.

Forgive me for being a little wistful.

We’ve done a good bit of pops at the start of this season, culminating in yesterday’s gala 20th anniversary celebration of the opening of the Meyerson.  (We tend to call it “The Mort” and aptly so, because it was named for Mort Meyerson.)  A couple of big-name headliners came back with their band members and performed again with the DSO like they did when the hall opened in 1989.  In juxtaposition with some of the newer pops artists who don’t have much experience performing with symphony orchestras, and all the issues with parts (see previous ranting post about “Real Parts”), these guys stand out as reminders of how things “used to be.”

Yes, the old books are huge and heavy, the parts are marked up, and there are even quite a few of the same charts as in years past.  But the level of professionalism is just so ingrained in these musicians.  No issues, no problems.  Just taking care of business.  And the awareness that everyone can depend on each other to do their jobs, and that they know what those jobs are.

So, yeah, I occasionally miss that simplicity.  Not all the old ways of doing things should be obsolete.

Especially if a new way takes more time, is no more accurate, doesn’t get rid of the mistakes (just creates different ones), and doesn’t really help us in the long run.  And is less professional.


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