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Musicans Rally Around "The Nutcracker"

By Sarah Kaufman

The musicians who make up the Washington Ballet Orchestra have decided to make some noise about the Washington Ballet's decision not to use them for its "Nutcracker."

On Thursday, Oct. 28, at 3 p.m., the musicians will stage a rally outside the Washington Ballet's headquarters at 3515 Wisconsin Ave. NW. Fittingly enough, the rally will feature live music: a mini-concert by a brass ensemble. The musicians will announce a campaign "seeking to produce thousands of emails to Washington Ballet management, its board of directors and the D.C. City Council urging them to find the funds to rehire the orchestra," according to a statement issued Tuesday by violinist Patty Hurd and John Cusick of the American Federation of Musicians.

For the second year in a row, the Washington Ballet has announced it cannot afford a live orchestra to play for its full-length productions, which include "Romeo and Juliet," to be performed at the Kennedy Center Nov. 4-7, and its annual "Nutcracker," at the Warner Theatre Dec. 3-26. The ballet management is gambling that audiences will accept, or at least overlook, taped music for these upscale, large-scale productions. The musicians are betting on a backlash. The question is, having been torn asunder for this long, will the two halves of the ballet experience--music and dance--ever reunite?

By Sarah Kaufman  | October 26, 2010; 8:22 PM ET
Categories:  Dance, News Features, Sarah Kaufman  
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Here's a thought - instead of taking away from valuable staff time to by overwhelming them and their resources with e-mails encouraging them to find funding for live music, the artists actually launch a campaign to help the Ballet raise the funds needed to support live music.

Furthermore, I am continually disappointed in Sarah Kaufman’s editorial-style reporting when it comes to the Washington Ballet. Many arts organizations are struggling right now and rather than breaking them down, perhaps she should use her platform to encourage people to support the arts.

The Washington Ballet is not a perfect organization by any means, but it is Washington D.C.’s ballet company and deserves the community’s support, not constant criticism, especially when funding is scarce and they are making difficult decisions so that they can continue to present their programs.

Posted by: WPID17 | October 27, 2010 9:23 AM | Report abuse

Musicians, in general, have a much easier time making a living than dancers do. I'm guessing that it is the same in this case. Give the dancers a break! Why pay an orchestra 100,000's of dollars at the expense of dancers.

At the Opera, which is supposed to be the grand culmination of music, dance and theater, the dancers are the first to be cut from productions.

Posted by: jgllo | October 27, 2010 12:09 PM | Report abuse

Where does one get the idea that musicians in Washington have an easy time earning a living? Or that they are competing with the dancers. The musicians supported the dancers when they were locked out by the Washington Ballet in 2005 and know that they now have the support of the dancers. Both struggle to survive in the arts and appreciate each other's contribution to keeping ballet vibrant and alive.

Posted by: omoobatala | October 27, 2010 6:15 PM | Report abuse

Dancers and musicians alike know the difficulty of making a living in the arts. The Washington Ballet orchestra members would like to continue to earn their salaries but more importantly, we want to stress the relationship between the stage and the pit, how this effects the overall performance and the loss to the audience when all the components aren't there. We hope that additional funds will become available, through the generosity of public and/or private donations, to restore live music.

Posted by: pattyhurd | October 27, 2010 7:28 PM | Report abuse

Besides being a great loss to the cultural scene, the use of recorded music is possibly a greater loss to the cause of arts education in DC. Especially rewarding for me as a member of the orchestra is playing for the many young people seeing Nutcracker with their family, school or scout group. Not only are they seeing and hear a live professional orchestra (often for the first time)- they are also welcome to interact with us before and after the show and during intermission, a "show and tell" for the kids looking into the orchestra pit. It is obvious from their enthusiasm and curiosity that live music is very important to the ballet experience for a child. It is extremely saddening to think that this will be missing from the Nutcracker experience yet again this year.

Posted by: haneyb | October 27, 2010 10:16 PM | Report abuse

I agree with previous posts that this is an unfortunate situation and I hope that it doesn't turn into a dancers vs. musicians discussion. In my opinion, both make the experience of going to the ballet memorable. As haneyb touched on, I can remember my first experiences going to the ballet and other live performances as an elementary student. I remember taking field trips and talking with the orchestra members before the show. Seeing the musicians fueled a desire in trying out the flute in fourth garde and also piqued my interest in the classical arts. Similarly, I have also had a love of dance for years and nothing beats (in my mind at least) the thrill of seeing dancers on stage, espcially accompanied by live music. I really hope that funding is able to be found for the musicians so others can enjoy an even richer experience at the ballet.

Posted by: Guantanamera17 | October 28, 2010 9:20 AM | Report abuse

Guantanamero17 has a very good point. Most parents shudder at the thought of taking their young children to hear live music because of the fear of disturbing fellow concert enthusiasts. The Nutcracker is the perfect venue in which to introduce young people to the instruments of the orchestra and to inspire them to become participants in the arts. Using canned musac for Nutcracker performances goes against the principals of Mary Day, founder of the Washington Ballet, who recognized the importance of live music by her collaboration with the National Symphony in the 1950s when the ballet company was pre-professional. We must find a way to get the orchestra back in the pit, where it has been for over 50 years of WB Nutcraker performances. Live music is fundamental to the artistic experience of the Nutcracker Ballet.

Posted by: ebaughman | October 28, 2010 1:38 PM | Report abuse

Last year,when the news came to orchestra musicians that they would not be hired, their response was to go to management and offer a reduction in salary. That was the level of commitment to live music that the orchestra musicians have shown. That was done quietly, and behind the scenes, and with the good of all in mind. What did the ballet management do in response to that? They rejected that offer. Did they make that information available to their audience? Apparently not, since WPID17 seems to know nothing about that!

The ballet should be encouraged to make decisions that are in the best interest of the art form. All arts organizations know that sometimes means difficult decisions have to be made. The audience has the best influence in helping the organization see what is important to the audience and for the good of the art.

Posted by: roccoz | October 30, 2010 9:44 AM | Report abuse

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