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.

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