Charlottetown Festival to reduce orchestra

Today (the week before Christmas) the Charlottetown Festival announced plans to re-orchestrate Anne of Green Gables-The Musical, a plan which will see the orchestra reduced by six musicians, from 19 to 13. This is devastating news – news that could have an enormous impact on my life as I know it. For the last 22 years I have played trombone for this production. I have rarely subbed out. I have always imagined doing this until the day I retire, and I can’t believe that there is a possibility it may be over. The Charlottetown Festival has been my bread and butter, my single biggest source of income, and something I truly love doing. Having this work every summer is what has given me the freedom to be a musician on PEI – to do what I want to do, where I want to do it. Losing this job would change my life – I would either have to do something else for a living, or move away from PEI. It is ironic that now, as I pursue a doctorate in performance – the most advanced form of musical training – I may no longer be able to survive as a musician.

But there is a bigger picture here. This is not about me – or even about six musicians – losing our jobs. People lose their jobs every day; it is just part of business in our current economic climate. No, what is at stake here is the artistic integrity of the Anne of Green Gables production itself. Only a year ago the Charlottetown Festival invested in a new “re-imagined” production of Anne of Green Gables, complete with new choreography and sets, in an effort to make the show even better. Why take a step backwards now? To save money, of course. But of all the possible ways to save money, why target the music? Well, music is ephemeral and intangible – you can’t see it or touch it or hold it in your hands and marvel at the skill that went into its creation. At first glance, it may appear to be superfluous – a little extra icing on the cake. But the truth is that it is as integral to the artistic quality of the show as the choreography, the sets, the costumes and the lights – surely the title of the show gives this away: Anne of Green Gables-The Musical. And orchestration matters: imagine watching a movie – Lord of the Rings, Star Wars, even Titanic – with only 13 musicians (or worse, an electronic keyboard) providing the soundtrack instead of a full orchestra. Music is an essential component in providing emotional impact – even gamers know this; witness the current trend for video game productions to include a soundtrack recorded by a live full orchestra. As one producer says:

The only reason to use a live orchestra in a game soundtrack would be to make the game better than if you had not used an orchestra; to make the game more immersive, more engaging, more fun than if it didn’t include the orchestra. And on the business side, it would be helpful if you could sell enough units to pay for it. . . . But, then you might say: “Of course a live orchestra would make our game better, but we can’t afford it!” Well, my goal . . . is to communicate just one thing: In order to make a game that would truly be better due to using an orchestra, can you really afford not to use one? – Jack Wall

An audience attends musical theatre for more than simple entertainment – part of the experience is to be “immersed” and “engaged”, to be emotionally and spiritually enriched and uplifted. The music is an essential part of this. Audiences know the importance of this too – they are a lot smarter than it would seem they are given credit for. And one of the big attractions for the Anne of Green Gables production at the Charlottetown Festival – the one thing that sets us apart from anything else in the region – is our 19-piece orchestra. Audiences know that they can come to Charlottetown and experience something special – something they can’t experience anywhere else – something the Charlottetown Festival promotes as a “Broadway calibre production”. As a national cultural institution (and one that has received increased federal funding recently) that “showcases the best in Canadian visual and performing arts“, the Confederation Centre of the Arts “is the result of a dream shared by all Canadians – to create a place where our country’s history and multicultural character is celebrated, and where the talents of its people are nurtured and showcased“. If their goal is to provide quality programming at a national level, they need to aim to maintain the musical quality of their flagship musical production. 13 musicians do not an orchestra make.

And what about the wishes of Norman Campbell (the composer) and his wife Elaine, two of the co-creators of Anne of Green Gables-The Musical? Years ago the orchestra was reduced to its current size of 19 – a size that was believed to be the absolute minimum required to do justice to the music. Before he died, Norman made it very clear that his wish was to see the orchestra preserved, and Elaine did her best (before her own death) to see that this wish would be upheld – by donating a large sum of money to the Charlottetown Festival specifically earmarked for the purpose of maintaining the orchestra. I guess now that they are dead, their wishes no longer matter…

Below is the press release that was issued this morning. What do you think?

For Immediate Release

Centre plans to re-orchestrate Anne of Green Gables – The Musical™ in 2012

(Charlottetown, PE – December 19, 2011)- After presenting a successfully re-imagined Anne of Green Gables – The Musical™ last summer, the Confederation Centre of the Arts is planning to re-orchestrate the music of this flagship production in 2012. The re-orchestration work will take place in the spring and will be presented for the 2012 season of The Charlottetown Festival.

“Ensuring that we preserve the magical theatre experience that audiences have enjoyed for many years is of the utmost importance. Although the musical score for Anne of Green Gables has been altered over the past 47 years, we have never made a change to this extent.” says Anne Allen, Artistic Director of The Charlottetown Festival.

This change in the score will mean the musical can be presented with a reduced orchestra. The current orchestra includes 19 musicians. The re-orchestrated score will require 13 musicians.

“The opportunity in re-orchestrating is that should we decide to tour Anne, this reduced orchestra size would make it more feasible. The reduced orchestra size will also allow for some contemporary changes and flexibility.” adds Allen.

The change will also allow The Charlottetown Festival to keep theatre ticket prices reasonable for visitors and Islander’s alike according to Confederation Centre CEO Jessie Inman.

“We want to continue to offer a first class, affordable musical theatre experience,” says Inman.

The contract to re-orchestrate the musical will be assigned in early 2012.

Anne of Green Gables – The Musical™ is sponsored by MacLean Construction and plays selected dates from July 3 to September 26, 2012. Tickets for the hit musical start at $20 and can be purchased at the Confederation Centre Box Office, toll-free by calling 1-800-565-0278, or online at

The Charlottetown Festival major sponsor is APM. Media sponsors are The Guardian, CTV, Ocean 100 and K-Rock.


Media contact:

Tracy Stretch, Communications Manager, Confederation Centre of the Arts

902-628-6135 | 902-314-5966 |

This entry was posted in Life on PEI, Music. Bookmark the permalink.

12 Responses to Charlottetown Festival to reduce orchestra

  1. Brian James says:

    May as well cut Gilbert and Mathew from the line up too. Cut the orchestra any more than it already has been and you no longer have a Musical, let alone a first class one. The effort to gut the orchestra shows clear disdain and a disgusting lack of respect for the composer and the musicians of the Charlottetown Festival Orchestra.
    Allen and the rest of the admin of the Centre should be ashamed of themselves.
    The orchestra needs to strike and any scab willing to play the pit should be run off the island.

  2. I am deeply opposed to this decision by the Charlottetown Festival. What on earth are they thinking?
    I propose:
    – doing a protest shows without any orchestra and having all media invited to attend (provincial and national)
    – papering over the word “musical” all marketing materials coming out for this summers festival or maybe adding a question mark.
    “Anne, the Musical?”

  3. Connie Clark says:

    I have yet to see the “new” Anne, I admit. I was scared. Lost count how many times that I have seen it, in its former glory, and hoped to remember all the tunes and scenes as they were. Now they are going to cut the orchestra by almost a third? Can’t imagine what you must be feeling, but as a music lover, especially of live performance (without the benefit of synthesized noises), we must do something to stop the erosion.

  4. dawn arsenault says:

    Utterly insane…………The press release made it sound like it paying the musicians is what is putting the ticket prices up…..I hope the people of Charlottetown are smart enough to know this is not true.

  5. Fred Louder says:

    “Ensuring that we preserve the magical theatre experience…” Such language! Their grandmother would have washed their mouth out with soap. For my sins (and my groceries), I spend hours every week translating this sort of bafflegab, and what it means is: “Let’s all pretend this isn’t happening.” The only “magic” is the magical thinking served up so that people won’t take time to think about the real costs. And of course apart from the artistic damage being done, it >is< about you and six other musicians losing your jobs. It will take a long time in a declining tourist economy to recoup from ticket sales the social and economic losses that elimination of those six high-quality jobs will cost PEI. With admiration as always,FL

  6. Glenda MacFarlane says:

    Oh for the love of GOD. I’ve seen the show a lot of times…I’m a summer resident and I have a young daughter; this equals an excursion with friends every year to Anne! Last year’s “reimagining” was ridiculous. Part of the enormous charm of the thing is that it’s like a trip to a simpler era — a real orchestra, an old-fashioned staging, a familiar story. Why are they tinkering with what is their bread-and-butter? If they keep “reimagining” the show, there’ll be nothing worthwhile left of it.

  7. Pingback: Why the orchestra matters | Dale Sorensen’s Blog

  8. Allan J. Walsh says:

    The Charlottetown Festival and Anne have been incredibly influential to me and many other musicians and non-musicians alike. Having the opportunity to not only see and hear live theatre but also meet and learn from highly professional musicians and other artists was key in my decision to become a professional musician myself. The same is true for many of my friends who became professional lighting technicians, sound technicians, set designers, stage managers, make-up artists, wardrobe mistresses, musical directors and on and on.

    Unfortunately I see the same things happening in other towns and cities with live theatre. The use of synthesizers and computer programs to replace musicians is becoming commonplace and jobs are going the way of the dinosaur as quality takes a dive.
    OCCUPY ‘ANNE’ seems to be in order?



    Allan J. Walsh
    Laurentian University
    Cambrian College
    Sudbury Theatre Centre
    Theatre Cambrian

  9. The Turnip says:

    The following piece is not intended to be funny, but rather to support the musicians and play on the timing of the announcement. It is intended as unvarnished satire. Best wishes…

  10. Glenda Landry-Campbell says:

    I was wondering why all the seats are being cut from the orchestra? Why not cut one seat from the orch, one from the stage, one from the crew etc until they have the desired amount. To say that they want to cut to be able to tour the orchestra, well, i have been with this show for decades and we NEVER, NEVER, tour the WHOLE ORCHESTRA. We only take one key person from every section of the orchestra and fill in the others as we go on the tour. Our musical director is one of the busiest people when we arrive in a new town!!
    i have been singing with this orchestra for four decades and MANY, MANY times they have saved my butt!! When my voice was tired, when I had a virus on my chords, when i forgot my lyrics, this wonderful orchestra did what they do best……..THEY SUPPORTED THE SINGER!!
    I, for one, will support my orchestra. I will do what ever i can, speak to whomever I need to speak to, sit in whatever office i need to sit in just to make sure that the wonderful sounds coming out of the pit never stop.
    ‘I can’t find the words” is not an option for me……I will find the words and i will find the answer as to why this decision was made.
    Sincerely and with great support
    Glenda Landry
    Senior Cast Member of the Charlottetown Festival

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