Friday, March 28, 2008

CBC Orchestra Disbands?

According to the CBC, that's what it's doing.

Although Chris Foley at the Collaborative Piano Blog found it surprisingly honest, I would beg to differ.

To say in the headline that the orchestra is disbanding implies some kind of collective action on the part of the musicians, and not an executive decision to slowly replace orchestral music on CBC with whatever's cheaper.

From the article:

The decision to disband the orchestra — formed in 1938 when radio orchestras were common — comes down to dollars and cents, a CBC executive in Vancouver said Thursday.
You see? Having a radio orchestra is old fashioned, and to stay "relevant", CBC needs to "embrace change" and stay "cutting edge". This means instead of keeping an irrelevant orchestra around, they will spend the money they saved broadcasting irrelevant orchestras.

Indeed, this is the CBC's logic - killing the orchestra is all about "outreach":

"We know for example that for a concert that we fund through our CBC Radio Orchestra, we can extend our reach to three by doing it through other musical organizations," said Jennifer McGuire, executive director of CBC English Radio.

OK, but given they've cut the amount of time alloted to broadcasting orchestral music, what does this mean?

The article also appears to ignore the function the orchestra played in the musical life of Vancouver residents, but who cares about them, right? That's what you get for not living in Toronto!


And then there's the reaction to it, the people commenting on the article, the echo chamber at the end of internet news articles that let people "join the conversation".

If only people on either side of the debate who comment on news articles had anything interesting to say. (Yes, I am aware of the self-referential position I put myself in by blogging this!)

Most comments fall into two categories, which are probably reflective of public opinion - cutting the CBC Radio Orchestra is outrageous, or cutting the CBC Radio Orchestra is a good thing becase taxpayer dollars could be more efficiently used. (This ignores the "CBC sucks or classical music sucks" comments, which are the argumentative equivalent of belching during a debate.)

Does anyone notice that these opposing arguments are not opposing at all, that they speak to a deep divide in how people think about culture and the world?

One speaks to a moral obligation the public broadcaster has to "culture", the other a moral obligation to "the taxpayer". Which one wins?

Where does the efficient use of taxpayer money fit in with the CBC's mandate to "inform, enlighten, and entertain"?

Are those three charges equal? Are they in order of importance?

It seems to me that CBC has, for the most part, abdicated the first two in favour of the third. So then, isn't the waste of taxpayer money that the CBC spends far more money on unelnlightening entertainment than they do on the CBC Radio Orchestra?

I think people who love the CBC and believe that it should be the country's premier cultural forum have to begin doing some heavy lifting here, intellectually speaking.

We can no longer point to Beethoven and expect people to go "oh, yes, we need that and those who followed him", because no one really understands that anymore - the news story comments make that much clear.

Rather, artists and intellectuals need to field on which this debate is played. We need to stop lamenting the supposed "golden age" of public enlightenment, and build that enlightened space for ourselves. Perhaps then, the CBC, as a consumate follower of trends, will come around.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

CBC Radio Orchestra Cut - Boycott The CBC

According to the Chris Foley at the Collaborative Piano blog, CBC has cut the CBC Radio Orchestra.

From the (former) CBC Radio Orchestra website:

There's nothing else like it! The CBC Radio Orchestra is North America's only broadcast ensemble, a legacy of the days when radio orchestras were to be found all over our continent. With an audience as diverse as the Canadian experience, we create engaging musical radio programs, commission and perform new works as well as established classics, and showcase exceptional Canadian performers and conductors. Alain Trudel has led the orchestra since the fall of 2006. Under his direction the orchestra continues to tirelessly navigate a rich and varied musical landscape, never ceasing to grow and evolve.

No more. Today, I encouraged loyal Radio 2 listeners to tune out, because of programming changes. Now they are dismantling an entire orchestra.

What can one do? Here's a suggestion.

Classical musicians forget about the CBC as a broadcast platform. It seems that the only alternative is to build something out of the CBC's ashes, perhaps something akin to the local public broadcasting of orchestra concerts that happen across the US - the Minnesota Orchestra has it own radio program. Given the CBC's abandoning of high culture, why should the major Canadian orchestras rely on the CBC, when the CBC has just told Canadian orchestras that it will sacrifice professional musicians to pay for another episode of Air Farce? Why not just broadcast it themselves, or see if any other radio stations will pick up the slack? Moses Znaimer, anyone?

The numbers don't lie - there's a market for classical music, but the CBC doesn't care about that market anymore, instead groping hungrily for that elusive popera and light jazz standards market. Perhaps the only thing musicians can do is starve them back to their senses or move on.

So what about a general boycott? Given today's news, the time for letters to the program manager and hand wringing is past.

Oh, the Hypocrisy!

I have noted before my deep admiration for Canadian composer R. Murray Schafer.

Last fall, I attended a performance of his The Princess of the Stars up in Haliburton Forest. I had intended to review it, but cottage life...

The work takes place on a lake at dawn, and is a myth of Schafer's fashioning that unfolds before us, viewers who in some sense are also part of the action.

I enjoyed it immensely, despite the time of the performance and the chill in the morning air. It is unfortunate that I happened to sit next to people who did not enjoy it at all, and voiced their objections rather loudly afterwards, using opining with the age-old slander that Schafer's music is not music at all.

No matter. The point of this post is to point you towards a concert on the CBC's Concerts on Demand site which celebrates the 75th birthday of Canada's greatest living composer.

Yes, I am aware of what I just said about the CBC, but it's radio and TV we're looking to change, right? Let's just remember that offering concerts on demand isn't a substitute for broadcasting and promoting classical music and the arts in the blunter media of TV and radio.

And here's something else, just for the sheer pleasure - R. Murray Schafer's own program notes to his compositions (warning, opens to a pdf)! They are a delight to read, and well worth browsing before, during, and after the concert. Schafer is not only a great musician, he's a wonderful writer, as opinionated and vibrant in his words as in his compositions.


Turning off the CBC

I know the news about CBC Radio 2 finally doing away with any kind of pretense that it's a classical music station a few weeks ago has generated a storm of controversy.

Russell Smith, in the Globe and Mail, has devoted two of his Thursday columns to this topic. He claims the reaction to his columns is "bigger than any response to anything I have ever published in a newspaper (yes, beating out both porn and grammar)." People are outraged.

The issue of Radio 2 is one I've tried to tackle before. And given my interest, perhaps my loyal readers are wondering why I haven't said anything and added my voice to Smith and his readers' outrage.

My main reason is that I no longer listen to CBC Radio 2.

Well, that's not quite true. Saturdays are still, for the most part, CBC Radio 2 days for me, but I think this is just a coincidence and has little to do with any effort on the CBC's part to retain loyal listeners.

Indeed, I am sure that if they could come up with some clever reason to move Saturday Afternoon at the Opera to the midnight-6 AM shift, they would. They could even play an opera recording on Sunday nights, dub it "Opera Weekends", and proclaim that they've doubled the amount of opera on CBC Radio 2!

The arguments of Smith et al are trenchant, and I agree with them, but I but I think their idealism leads them up a blind alley, an alley that ignores the people who are in charge now.

Isn't it all obvious what is happening? The ad men (and women) have taken over the CBC.


I wonder if this well-worn sentence, from Deleuze and Guattari's What is Philosophy, doesn't point towards CBC's main problem:

Finally, the most shameful moment came when computer science, marketing, design, and advertising, all the disciplines of communication, seized hold of the word concept itself and said: “This is our concern, we are the creative ones, we are the ideas men! We are the friends of the concept, we put it in our computers."

What does this mean, you ask? It's that, somewhere along the way, the culture of the humanities got recoded with the culture of marketing.

Humanistic thinking must be "saleable" (read dumbed down) in order to qualify as legitimate.

Not so long ago, one could look at the CBC and say that their mandate was to educate and to broaden the kinds of discourse found in the public sphere. Not anymore. It is clear to anyone who watches or listens to the CBC that their mandate is to achieve market share. So what does that mean? Cast as wide a net as possible to catch as many as you can, and don't worry about what you're catching.

In other words, the only way to get CBC back to its educational mandate, and yes, this means putting "difficult" music on, and having "complicated" conversations, things that most bureaucrats believe the "average" person is incapable of, is by switching off the CBC.

You have to remember that the people who think they know best about "what people want" aren't snooty elitests listening to Webern while reading The Last Days of Virgil, rather they are people who have virtually no tastes at all. It is their position in the bureaucracy that gives them this authority, and not their knowledge of culture, or their appreciation of the arts.

So they are not looking down at the rabble, they are imagining the rabble too dumb to understand things that they, clever bureaucrats they are, don't understand either!

This much is clear - All they understand are numbers. The CBC's communications strategy has been full off talk of "target markets" and "demographics". That's why writing letters is a great way to vent, but a waste of time to effect change when the only numbers they understand are ratings.

Mother corp haters used to complain that the CBC didn't care about ratings, and that's why they allowed all this esoteric crap on the radio instead of the latest popular music. Now that it's clear that the CBC cares only about ratings, why should the big chunk of old listeners they have spent the past 15 years alienating keep listening?

Let me ask you that, classical music listener - Why do you listen to CBC Radio 2 anymore? Because you used to love it? Out of patriotic duty? Why?

I am ever optimistic. Perhaps one day, the pendulum will swing back, and the humanities will again be seen as something intrinsically worthwhile instead of an impractical luxury that takes money away from repackaging bad bonds into complex securities to trade on the derivatives markets.

Until then, the only way to change things is to use that very same market CBC execs have deluded themselves into believing they are a part of and must lead by following whatever it is the "people" want.

Starve the monster, and just turn off the CBC.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Coyne on Tipping

Andrew Coyne, a well-known Canadian opinionator, has a piece in this month's Macleans magazine about the scourge of tipping people in the service sector.

It's highly enjoyable mainly because it's true. There is something unseemly about tipping, and as Coyne points out, the conventions of tipping are completely arbitrary. I'm usually one for ritual, but who does tipping really help if it's so asymetrically applied?

My one reservation is Coyne injunction to encourage the individual to stop tipping. While this lines up nicely with his libertarian leanings, it seems that the only way that tipping would become shameful is if restaurants and hoteliers decide to discourage it publicly, an unlikely scenario.

Here in Toronto, there was a big move from restaurateurs to stop using bottled water and serve water only from the humble Toronto tap - can you see them banding together and proudly boasting their restaurant is a tip-free zone?

So Coyne's point is taken and accepted, but how many of us are willing to band together to stop tipping, and how much pressure would be needed to get tip-soaked industries to do anything to address the wage issue they hide behind to justify tipping?

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Good Friday on Grace Street

It should be clear to anyone who comes here that this is most certainly not a news site. Anyone here looking for up-to-the-minute opinions on the issues of the day would be deeply disappointed, and judging from my statistics, this conjecture is well grounded in the evidence before me!

However, occasionally, I manage to submit stories that aren't completely stale.

Grace Street comes by its name easily, perhaps too easily. It begins at Dundas Street, with this church on its corner, across the street from St. John the Baptist, a Spanish language congregation.

And halfway up the street, before on has encountered another set of lights, comes this church, St. Francis of Assisi, our parade patrons. But before St. Francis, there's a French language school, named after a very Catholic Prime Minister.

Just to make things more confusing, the original St. Francis was what is now St. Agnes!

So we have not even gone a city block, and our space has already been delimited by the history of the people who have lived here. And there is no fuller expression of this history than the Good Friday procession which begins and ends here on Grace Street.

So let us now see these people, our people, by virtue of our (new) location as well as the beautiful flexibility of Canadian identity.

You see the flags. Right from the start, the procession informs its observers that this will be an example of the Word in the world. The flags of Canada and Ontario alongside the flags of Portugal and...any ideas? I am not sure to whom the flags with the bird belongs! [update, courtesy of a commenter: It's the Azores!]

But before anyone begins to move, one hears something, the first of our three bands, and they will remind us that this is not a parade, as the word slips so easily from the tongue, but a procession.

So let the procession begin. I will let these images speak for themselves, from that sunny, yet strangely bleak Good Friday. If you want an explanation of the event, just go here.

Now who said this wasn't a parade? There's cotton candy to be had! There were also vendors selling roasted chestnuts and popcorn, and I do not know where they are the rest of the year, because this is the only time I ever see them!

Here is one of our numerous live-action Jesuses. A tough job, especially given this year the crowd seemed to be significantly larger than last year. Hard to keep serious and solemn when small children are yelling at you to GO! because the procession has ground to a halt for some reason, perhaps because someone up ahead has lost their shoe...

Yes, right below you is the head of John the Baptist...not sure why Herod would be carrying it around, but...

Here comes the big show:

This is the one that makes all the papers - it's the scene where the soldiers beat Jesus up. When I came last year, this was the hardest one to take a decent picture of, mainly because there was a swarm of camera and video crews, capturing every blow and throaty scream of the soldier.

I suppose the media likes this because it "reminds us of His sacrifice", but I suspect we all know better! Mel Gibson anyone?

I actually tried to catch them smiling - an sneeze from the crowd had brought laughter to the beaten Jesus and the soldiers, but I was too slow off the draw!

And here we have a copy of the Image of Edessa, or the Turin Shroud, or...

From here on in, no more live Jesus - I suppose its just too graphic, so instead we're confronted with statues, pulled along by men in uniforms. (Again, I would love to find out what uniforms they're wearing!)

Another band - an Intermezzo:

Throughout all this, there are women singing, speaking the Ave Maria...

Those soldiers again:

And here are our local politicians, doing their duty for the greater good - reelection! No, I shouldn't be so cynical...

And here are our Friars! I wish I had managed to get some good pictures of their chausubles, as they were magnificent!

The Sorrowful Mother with her children.

This outfit, to me, symbolizes more than anything else the gulf between Catholicism and Protestantism...

The final band.

And now, you may join. The faithful walk behind the procession until it arrives back at the church. These people have joined right from the start!

However, and just as at the beginning, the State bookmarks the procession...this is the real end of the show.

Walking away...

Walking away.

Happy Easter. I'm heading off now to celebrate a traditionally, with a solemn viewing of Norman Jewison's Jesus Christ Superstar.