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Does music matter?Is anyone listening?


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#16 Ray

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Posted 03 February 2012 - 01:35 PM

I think many composers in the popular genres like Broadway expect their music to be rearranged (I don't know if "covered" is anachronistic for Gershwin or not). I recall a great discussion of this in one of Ned Rohrem's diaries--from what I remember, he reports chiding Stephen Sondheim for not caring more about protecting his orchestrations. Have to dig that up. But yeah, I agree with Helene: I can't really take Stars & Stripes as a piece of music (actually I'm a bit allergic to the pas de deux, too!).

#17 sandik

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Posted 03 February 2012 - 01:41 PM

I hadn't really thought of these as "cover" versions, but that's a great concept. So then does the trouble start when the cover version becomes more popular than the original (thinking of Elvis's "Hound Dog")

#18 Helene

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Posted 03 February 2012 - 01:44 PM

It's also odd to hear concert versions of pieces to which ballets have been set when the music is cut and/or re-arranged, for example, Tchaikovsky's "Serenade for Strings" and "Mozartiana" and the Mendelssohn symphony used for the Divertissement in "A Midsummer Night's Dream", where the middle part of the slow movement was dropped by Balanchine.

#19 sandik

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Posted 03 February 2012 - 02:40 PM

It occurs to me that I shouldn't whinge about Hershey Kay's appropriation of Western folk songs if I'm still a fan of Aaron Copland's score for Appalachian Spring...

#20 dirac

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Posted 03 February 2012 - 02:40 PM

I think many composers in the popular genres like Broadway expect their music to be rearranged


Broadway composers expect their music to be rearranged but they don't necessarily like it.Rodgers and Hart went so far as to write a song about complaining about such liberties ("I Like to Recognize the Tune").

For the record, most writers of show tunes don't/can't do their own orchestrations. Sondheim for years relied on the estimable Jonathan Tunick. In the days of Rodgers and Hart there was Hans Spialek and Robert Russell Bennett. (Weill did his own, and was surprised to hear that others didn't.) The late John McGlinn was a great advocate of recovering original Broadway orchestrations.

#21 dirac

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Posted 03 February 2012 - 02:46 PM

From Fingers' OP:

The collaboration between musician and dancer is extensive, intense, and subtle, as anyone who knows the history of Balanchine's company would fully expect. And yet, my question is, does anyone really care, or does it really matter?


There are really two sides to that collaboration - what happens between the musician and dancer from their perspective and what the audience see from the other side of the footlights. Certainly I care, but I don't necessarily understand the nature of the interaction from where I'm sitting....

#22 Ray

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Posted 03 February 2012 - 02:56 PM

I know that live music makes a whole lot of difference to a performance. Perhaps it's easy for NYCB audiences to take it for granted b/c it's always there.

#23 Amy Reusch

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Posted 03 February 2012 - 06:32 PM

A performance without live music is like a performance lit with flourescent light... Our attention is focused entirely on the dancing, but... the subliminal effect of the quality of the music is HUGE...

Like listening to a piece of music played by a student musician or a master musician... It's the same piece of music, after all, but in the master's hands it is much more effective.... The dancing is still the dancing, but it's lacking.

Of course, a bad orchestra/conductor is like bad lighting... It can get in the way of enjoying the art. I wouldn't mind canned music so much if it sounded as good in the theater as in my earphones... but usually it is subjected to awful sound systems. Canned music makes the performance feel like it is missing a dimension...

I can't imagine the difference to the dancers... Sure, canned is predictable... But how many dancers would prefer to take class to canned music over a live accompanist.... Very very few, unless the accompanist is incompetent.

#24 Jack Reed

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Posted 04 February 2012 - 06:49 AM

We often heard badly-reproduced canned music for MCB years ago, so I wrote a letter, pointing out that it had been decades since we had put up with that quality of sound system in our living rooms, so why in the theater? (I allowed for the difficulty of filling a room many times the size of a domestic room with natural-sounding bass.) Next season, I thought I knew what I was hearing, because most recordings have their own acoustic to add to the acoustic of the theater we're sitting in, but it sounded so natural and realistic I had to go down to the pit at intermission to check! Yup, nobody there! So it can be done, and when it is - speaking in general now, not about MCB, whose musical forces are often very good, if not so good as what the Kennedy Center provides TSFB - we can have the advantage of a great, large orchestra in the hands of a good conductor rather than a small group limited in size and quality by budget constraints.

But while the dancers get the flexibility of tempo "live" players provide, which matters most to them, I'd imagine, they still get the sound quality of canned music regardless, I gather: Theaters seem to be constructed so the audience hears the musicians well, but for the dancers the music is typically amplified into the wings, regardless whether there are musicians in the pit or not. And I prefer to think that dancers find some freshness from this flexibility rather than the mechanical rigidity of reproduced music - I've heard of some studios using several recordings in rehearsal for just this reason - there are limits:

At a panel discussion at the Museum of Broadcasting six months after Balanchine's death, the general question what it was like became focussed on this point, and Suzanne Farrell, with a meaningful glance down the table at Balanchine's great conductor, Robert Irving, said, "Well, we never knew what the tempos were going to be." "Horses run better under rein, Suzanne!" Irving shot back. So the enlivening potential for live accompaniment can go too far, I guess.

(Video of this panel has ben available at the Museum and at the dance archive at the NYPL at Lincoln Center.)

This matter to me, because I like the presence and reality of the dancers on stage to be matched by similar characteristics of their musical accompaniment. The best ballet, IMO, looks like the dancers are moving as the music tells them to - although no improvisation could be so good for so long! That effect puts me more or less in awe of what I am seeing and hearing.

#25 Helene

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Posted 04 February 2012 - 08:02 AM

On the subject of live vs. pre-recorded music, even when pre-recorded music is deliberately chosen, it still sounds to me that it's disembodied sound, no matter how good the sound system. For example, in the beginning of "Fancy Free", which starts with a recorded period song, when the first chords of the orchestra are played, it's always a shock to my system to hear the live orchestra emitting from the stage, not from somewhere on high in the theater.

#26 Jack Reed

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Posted 04 February 2012 - 02:08 PM

Ah, but that "recorded period song" is supposed to seem to emanate from the little table radio on the bar, operated by the bartender. Possibly the meaning of this, like other telling details in old ballets, has been omitted or otherwise lost - played too loudly over the theater P.A.? - in your recent experience? For me, it's a great set-up: At the curtain, we look, listen in, get the mood of the scene - an empty bar - and then those four fast drum-beats from the orchestra in the pit, forte!, BAM! BAM! BAM! BAM!, and we're off!


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