The Baltimore Sun's Voter Guide 2016

Protest to 'Save Live Music on Broadway' merits support

If you're in New York City Thursday night in the vicinity of the Palace Theater (Broadway, between 46th and 47th), you'll find some interesting action outside.

The Save Live Music on Broadway campaign -- described as "a coalition of Broadway composers, lyricists, musicians, performers and top professionals from the New York Philharmonic, the Metropolitan Opera and The Julliard School" --- will protest the producers of "Priscilla, Queen of the Desert."

Those producers, you may have heard, recently cut the size of the orchestra for that show at the Palace, and reinforced the remaining players with a recording.

The half-hour demonstration, starting at 7 p.m., may do little to change the situation in "Priscilla" or any other Broadway show where live music is threatened. But I think it's ...

an important gesture, one well worth making.

I still haven't forgotten the experience of seeing the celebrated revival of "South Pacific" at Lincoln Center, where the audience burst into rapturous applause partway through the overture simply because a cover over the pit opened to reveal the sight of an honest-to-goodness, Broadway-sized orchestra -- an experience as rare for most of us as obtaining a $500,000 revolving charge account at Tiffany's.

That "South Pacific" crowd knew what a treat that orchestra was, and just how much difference it made to the overall experience.

It's pathetic how persistently the number of players has been whittled away in one musical after another over the decades, so that the impersonal sound of heavily amplified synthesizers now is expected and tolerated. Thus holds true beyond Manhattan, of course; touring shows cut corners in the pit all the time.

Something about this "Priscilla" protest seems all the more fitting at a time when musicians in the symphonic and operatic arenas are confronting threats of reductions in force, too. Each time someone decides that a human being, trained and eager to serve the art, is disposable in an effort to increase profit margins, we all lose. Each time someone chips away at even a little of the visceral quality of live music-making, the damage is great.


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