So far, I've managed not step on my own, um, foot - but not by much. As Paul Ferguson said, 4 billion Chinese don't give a rat's ass how I play the show. But what good is having a blog and not using it to bloviate?
The idea of putting more and more orchestration in the synthesizer books has been around for quite some time. I've had people share their opinions with me about synths as a substitute/replacement for orchestral instruments since the mid '70s. Sometimes those opinions are thoughtful and well-reasoned, and sometimes they are less so. At one time, I was quite comfortable with the idea, because, after all, it was me doing the playing (and getting the paycheck). And, at the end of the day, we weren't fooling anybody - the synths didn't sound "real".
But technology marches on, and I find myself playing a book that has triggers of quite realistic four- and eight-bar samples of African flute - that happen in the middle of phrases where I'm playing marimba in the left hand and strings in the right hand. I don't know of anyone who would be able to remember and realize the sequence of articulation styles required in this book.
Many people responded to my earlier post, saying, in effect, "Too bad. You took the gig. Suck it up and play it." That wasn't the point I was trying to make. This is indicative of what I think is a bad direction in live music - "let's save money and just put it in the synth book." There's no percussion book in this show! It's me.
The suspension of reality has been around in recorded music for almost half-century now - ever since the advent of multi-track recording, you could create a virtual ensemble that could not reasonably exist. These sounds were (rightly so) justified as "the new orchestra". Live music (and live theatre) is a different situation. If they staged chorus scenes with video projections of additional dancers, audiences would be up in arms. That's because, as audiences, we like knowing that the company, from pit to backstage to star, is making an effort for us - showing us the miraculous achievements that the human race can do. It's the unspoken agreement that has always existed between performer and audience.
When people look down in the pit at this show, the reaction is generally not "How do so few people make so much sound?". It's more like an obscure disappointment.
I realize there's a financial aspect to these things. I realize that musicians cost money. But I think that, for several reasons, this is not a good way to go - especially with this show. It's in town here in Cleveland for three weeks, and they're saying that every show is sold out. Dress circle tickets are $130, which is a new record for Playhouse Square. Other shows with similar musical requirements have addressed the problem in other ways - I refer you to the pit of 'The Lion King'.
The other points I mentioned in my earlier post - the problem of finding players who: #1. can actually play this book #2. are willing to put in the extraordinary rehearsal time for less than 25% of what the other players are getting - are, I still feel, valid. Financial considerations have trumped musical considerations for some time now, but I believe this show crosses the Rubicon. This may get me fired, but that won't change the situation, and my feelings about it. I'm concerned that this sets a precedent for scoring future shows that makes everything just a little bit worse. I guess I'm putting my finger in the dyke (never a good thing to say in a theater).
Again, this matters not a bit to those 4 billion Chinese. But I hope that if you're in a position to make your feelings known about this, you will. I've worked with synthesizers all my life, and it's made me appreciate the sound of humanity in music. And don't get me started on PA systems...