Monday, April 07, 2008

Market forces and music collide - again


Canada’s oldest national orchestra is being axed by CBC Radio. Since 1938, the CBC Radio Orchestra, which is the last radio orchestra in North America, has been an invaluable part of Canada’s music scene. The axing is driven by cost savings which have also resulted in the mass culling of classical broadcasts.

Sign the online petition to sign the orchestra here. I hope that the fine CBC musicians will take strength from the story of how, when market forces and music collided in the past at the BBC, the threatened musicians fought back successfully.
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4 comments:

Scott said...

Lots of thrashing going on about the ongoing CBC Radio 2 changes, to which I've contributed my own opinions. However, I've come to the conclusion that much of the criticism is not well founded, and some is downright misguided.

Start with the last CBC Radio Orchestra. There used to be 5 or 6 of these, set up in cities that did not have permanent orchestras. They have made a significant contribution, but I think there's a pretty good case to be made that their day has passed.

Let me declare my biases up front - my listening is probably 60% western classical music, 30% jazz, and 10% other (Indian classical and so on). I recognize the slipperiness of terminology (to which Pliable has referred), but I'll use the term "serious music" to describe what I think CBC Radio 2 should be featuring. In this scheme, most western classical music is serious, much jazz (but not all) is serious, and some "popular" music is serious (but a lower percentage than classical or jazz).

It seems to me that there are two elements to this - the direction in which CBC management has said they are trying to go, and the specific actions they have taken to date to move in those directions. Where I think many people go off the rails is that they over-focus on the first. My paraphrase of what management is saying is that there are genres of serious music that should be better represented on Radio 2. I agree with that. I disagree with many comments I've seen on the Radio 2 blog and in letters to the editor which do things like slag any form of jazz as not worth serious consideration, state firmly that there's no "popular" music at all that's worth a place on CBC, and so on. This sort of attitude is not helpful. Quite the contrary, it's narrow and pointless.

My criticisms are about specific actions taken or announced. I'll mention three about which I'm particularly unhappy.

First, there's the cancellation of the small number of more "specialist" programs in favour of "generalist" fare. Two cases - "Two New Hours" (new classical music, usually recorded live and often with commentary by the composers); and "Jazz Beat" (mostly Canadian live-recorded jazz, again with frequent commentary by the composers/performers).

Second, there's the ghettoization of western classical music. Weekdays provide the best example, where in the very near future, just about all the classical programming during the week will be during the hours when many (most?) potential listeners are working.

Third, I find a lack of focus in several of the new or revamped programs. They seem to be laid out for the listener who puts their iPod on "shuffle" and takes what comes.

In summary, I think arguing against the high-level direction is both futile and misguided. Expanding the range of music types is a positive development. It's at the level of specific programming decisions and time allocation that I believe they're going seriously wrong.

On the other side of the ledger, there are some new programs that I find both appropriate and to which I will listen with enjoyment. Also, there has been talk of 2 24/7 Internet streaming channels, one classical and one jazz.

I have no quarrel whatever with the notion that western classical music provides us with some of our most profound and affecting musical experiences, and that those are to be cherished. However, the reality is that most of the world would not agree with me, and attempting to focus a national radio service such as CBC Radio 2 on western classical music almost exclusively is simply not realistic.

Pliable said...

Email received:

Yet another shining example of spineless bureacrats, i.e. the head(s) of CBC Radio Music, handing over the destruction of their department to their equally spineless upper-management Mandarins on a silver platter.

Gee, do I sound bitter? I wonder why.....

Cheers
David Cavlovic

Gene Ramsbottom principal clarinet CBCRO said...

Imagine all, and I mean, all the BBC orchestras being terminated in one day because of a bureaucrat decides that the money could be better spent elsewhere, on tv or radio programming such as that being proposed for the new CBC Radio Two. To give an understanding of scale five Great Britains would fit into one province of Canada (British Columbia). The CBC Radio Orchestra reaches all Canadians by radio service and the world through its overseas service and internet "Concerts-on-Demand" streaming. Look at a map and realize that citizens from coast to coast to coast enjoy the radio orchestra in its performances of a wide variety of music styles, not just the euro-centric so-called "classical" programming. We, in Canada, have only one national radio orchestra which has suffered thirty years of service cuts. You, in Britain, cannot imagine the demoralizing effect this decision has wrought amongst students and youngsters who take pride in this national cultural heritage. Yes, ou lost one when the BBC Northern Ireland Orchestra merged with Ulster but you still have a large network of fine BBC Orchestras to serve your nation. We will soon have none. When you suddenly lose all your BBC orchestras you might understand the misery surrounding the funeral of an orchestra. One by one the in-house system of radio orchestras was cut in Canada but the explanation to placate the various orchestras that died was that there would ALWAYS be a CBC Radio Orchestra in Vancouver to continue its valued cultural service as a part of Canada's national heritage.

Please send condolences to the Canadian people in this time of loss.

Pliable said...

Email received:

Subject: dedication

The Ambleside Orchestra is playing a concert at Carnegie Centre tonight (Wednesday, April 9, 2008) and will be dedicating the appearance to the CBC Orchestra cause. Our players are 100% behind the protest. The following will appear in our programs.

(Please feel free to send this blurb to anyone on your list.)

"The Ambleside Orchestra respectfully dedicates this concert to the musicians of the CBC Radio Orchestra which the CBC has outrageously disbanded, ending a long history of that ensemble’s advancement of new Canadian works, its community involvement and its continuous productions of the highest musical standards. "