In my previous post about the proposed cuts to the Anne of Green Gables orchestra, and also in my radio interview on CBC this morning, there is one thing that I feel I have not been articulating clearly enough. The Charlottetown Festival says that reducing the orchestra by 1/3 will have no negative impact on the quality of the musical. This is a delusional statement at best, if not downright deceptive, and here’s why:
Let me make some analogies, in an attempt to better get my point across:
Imagine telling the artistic director that she has to make do with 1/3 of the cast. She gets to keep Anne, of course, and Matthew and Marilla, etc., but Mrs. Blewett really has to go. In fact, that whole Mrs. Blewett scene is really not essential to the story. And hey, come to think of it, neither the stationmaster nor Earl the mailman is really necessary either. Sure, those characters may not be essential, but they add DEPTH to the story, and contribute to a richer experience for the audience.
Now imagine that the lighting designer is told they can only use 1/3 of the colour spectrum. They get to keep the blue and the green, but sorry, no red anymore. The thing is, without red, they no longer have yellow either, because yellow is made from the combination of red and green. Sure, it’s still light enough on stage – you can still SEE all that you need to see – but something is missing: depth of colour.
And this is exactly why an orchestra cut by 1/3 is unacceptable. Musicians refer to the different instruments in an orchestra as “orchestral colours”. Each individual instrument has their own colour, but just like primary visual colours, the combination of those colours in different ways creates even more colours and shades. Playing with 13 musicians instead of 19 is exactly like taking colours away from the lighting designer. Sure, there are still enough musicians to play all the notes in a chord – you can still HEAR all the notes you need to hear – but something is missing: musical depth of colour.
And what about the “contemporary changes” artistic director Anne Allen mentions in yesterday’s press release? Does she mean electronic technology? That’s sure what it sounds like to me. Let me make another analogy:
Imagine that this year they decide to use a painted mural of a buggy instead of the real thing. Sure, you can’t actually sit in it, but it looks great, doesn’t it? But something is missing: depth, the 3rd dimension.
I bet you can see where this is going. Let’s replace the strings with a synthesizer. Sounds almost as good as the real thing, doesn’t it? But something is missing, something only a human can bring to an instrumental sound: depth of expression, the musical 3rd dimension, the ability to caress a phrase, to add warmth to the tone, to articulate a note with varying degrees of softness, to infuse passion into a musical line. And isn’t that what music/musical theatre/the Arts is all about: giving expression to that which is uniquely human.
I also believe that Anne audiences are smart enough to notice that something is missing, and I think it is very condescending to imply otherwise. Some of them may not be able to articulate it in so many words, but they will notice. They will notice because an orchestra of fewer players lacks depth of colour, and electronic sounds lack depth of expression. How can this not be a compromise to the “integrity of the score” – a compromise that will contribute to a “lesser experience” for the audience?