[Dixielandjazz] Future of Music - Was Future of OKOM

Stephen Barbone barbonestreet at earthlink.net
Tue Aug 5 14:46:47 PDT 2003

NOT OKOM - However, a chilling message about what the future of live
music might hold. One more reason to upgrade our presentation skills.
(lest we be replaced by "virtual" jazz bands.)

Steve Barbone

August 4, 2003 - New York Times

Board Members Quit Over Opera Troupe's Virtual Orchestra


A small opera company in Brooklyn plans to present a production of
Mozart's "Magic Flute" on Saturday with the sole accompaniment of a
virtual orchestra. Protests from the musicians' union have prompted the
prominent opera singers Marilyn Horne and Deborah Voigt to resign from
the company's board.

The one-night-only production is being presented by the Opera Company of
Brooklyn, started just three years ago to help foster the careers of
rising opera talent. The company is using the virtual orchestra because
it cannot afford a live one, said Jay D. Meetze, the artistic director
and principal conductor, who said the troupe had accumulated a deficit
over the last two years.

The musicians' union, Local 802 of the American Federation of Musicians,
argues that virtual orchestras threaten the future of live music. It
started a letter-writing campaign last week, urging its members to
protest to the opera company's board of artistic trustees. "The
difference between real musicians and this is substantial," Bill
Moriarity, president of Local 802, said in an interview. "It worries

Virtual orchestras — whose computerized electronics simulate musical
accompaniment — are used to flesh out small groups of musicians by
several touring theatrical companies, but thus far their use in New York
has been to augment large complements of live players. The controversy
over virtual orchestras peaked during the Broadway musicians' strike in
March. The producers said they planned to use virtual orchestras if
musicians called a work stoppage, but the point became moot when other
theater workers' unions went out and Broadway went dark. The dispute was
eventually settled with mayoral intervention.

One of the companies enlisted by the Broadway producers was RealTime
Music Solutions, which is providing the accompaniment for "The Magic
Flute." David B. Smith, a partner in RealTime, is also providing the
theater for the production. The musicians' union argues that Mr. Smith
is exploiting the opera company to showcase and promote the virtual

"This is a demonstration project for the virtual pit orchestra that is
using the Opera Company of Brooklyn," Mr. Moriarity said. "All I can say
is, I hope it gets reviewed."

The opera company says that Mr. Smith, chairman of the entertainment
technology department at the New York City College of Technology in
Brooklyn, secured the college's Voorhees Theater as a way for students
to participate and made his company's technology available at no cost to
improve on what otherwise would have been the accompaniment of one

"We're a small company," Mr. Meetze said in an interview. "Our hearts
are in the right place. This is something we're getting for free."

"I would prefer live music," he added. "But I wanted something more than
a piano could produce."

Mr. Smith, a classical violinist himself, said he started to research
and develop the technology about 15 years ago at the College
Conservatory of Music in Cincinnati.

The Brooklyn opera performance is not a test case, Mr. Smith added. His
company has been providing orchestral enhancements — electronic music to
supplement live players — for musicals on the road, though the "Magic
Flute" production is RealTime's first stand-alone effort.

"This is just one little performance," Mr. Smith said in an interview.
"I'm all for live music. But I think you have an intriguing new
instrument here, and there's room for all of us."

Mr. Meetze acknowledged that he mistakenly failed to inform his board
members of the decision to use a virtual orchestra. "I should have been
in better communication," he said.

In response to the union's protest campaign, Ms. Horne received 95
e-mail messages over two days, Mr. Meetze said, prompting Denise A.
Pineau, an associate manager at Sheldon/Connealy, a division of Columbia
Artists Management Inc., to send him with Ms. Horne's resignation via
e-mail on

The next day Jesslyn Cleary, an assistant to Ms. Voigt, did the same.

Mr. Meetze said he also received a phone call from a union musician
threatening a violent demonstration at the forthcoming performance. Mr.
Moriarity said he knew nothing of this and would not condone it. "That's
not something that is sanctioned by Local 802," he said.

Mr. Meetze said he had received an expression of support from Marty
Markowitz, the Brooklyn borough president, and that he received an
message from a musician offering his services in the future.

The musician, David Nyberg, said in his message that he would send a
check for $150 to be used for the opera's Live Orchestra Fund, and "will
also offer my services as a percussionist, and my wife, Darlene, would
like to offer her service as a French horn player for an upcoming
production of O.C.B., gratis, if our schedules allow."

In the coming months, Mr. Meetze said, the opera company planned to
raise enough money to support two operas each season with live
orchestras. For now Mr. Meetze said he remained undaunted in his
decision to perform as scheduled on Saturday.

"There has been a lot of time put into this project and a lot of hard
labor by these opera singers," Mr. Meetze said. "We're still very
committed to our mission, and at this time the show must go on."

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