FlyOver: December 2007 Archives
It's that time of year again, when every ballet school in America trots its young students on stage for their production of "The Nutcracker." For that reason, it's also the time of year when journalists like myself struggle for anything new to say about this old chestnut.
A couple of years ago, I took a stab, after attending a performance here in Missoula, MT. I figured it'd be a good opportunity to talk about some of the cultural issues surrounding the choice of a ballet over a ballgame. As much as anything, it's a salvo aimed at those who unwisely believe that the things that are meaningful to them are somehow more important than the things that are meaningful to others.
I happened to come across that column today while looking back in our newspaper's archives for something else entirely, and thought I'd share.
The 'savage ballet'
Football and other sports mimic art more than some care to admit
By JOE NICKELL of the Missoulian
Last Friday, I watched a team of young people cap a season of intense practice with a remarkable performance. It was a spectacle of physical artistry: They leapt, they spun, they flipped and flung. Girls in extremely short skirts gleefully vaulted around, while muscular guys in extremely tight pants demonstrated acrobatic skills and deft moves that drew spontaneous cheers from the crowd.
Meantime, someplace else, the University of Montana lost its national championship football game.
For the rest of this article, please click through to the Missoulian archive.
Good cheer can be expensive, apparently. My colleague at the Missoulian, Rob Chaney, wrote an excellent behind-the-scenes piece for our paper this week about the surprising costs of putting on Christmas concerts, specifically related to sheet-music rentals. It's an issue that is likely shared by every school orchestra, community band, and small-town orchestra in this country -- and really not just at this time of year.
This story is just the tip of the iceberg. In speaking with John Driscoll, the executive director of the Missoula Symphony Orchestra, a couple of months ago, I was surprised to learn that his biggest challenge in trying to program modern music isn't his audience's willingness to listen to it.
The problem is the cost.
"It's really not cheap to program great music, and it's particularly not cheap to program contemporary music, be it contemporary classical, or pops, or movie themes," said Driscoll. "We have to be very cognizant of budget when programming the repertoire for all our concerts. That's often disappointing. For example, we program one or two big pieces on the summer (pops) concert; for the rest, a lot of that is music we either own or borrow from the other members of Montana Association of Symphony Orchestras, just so that we can afford to present the concert."
Driscoll cited numerous examples of works he had tried to secure for the orchestra at his music director's behest, only to find that he couldn't afford the part rentals. Somewhat tangentially, he further pointed out that, for the money he spends, he usually gets disorganized sheaves of instrumental parts that are often marked up willy-nilly by musicians who have used the parts previously.
This seems like a shockingly absurd problem in this modern era of cheap, on-demand printing -- to say nothing of digital distribution. I'm almost afraid to opine on the problem from where I stand, since I fear I'm maybe just missing a basic point of economics in this equation.
But what I do see now, more clearly, is that there are hazards beyond audience acceptance that make it hard for new music to reach listeners; and meantime, there are exorbitant hidden costs that can truly bruise a small or struggling orchestra.