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Cue Sheet – December 2006


    A bear at Reid Park Zoo has succumbed to liver cancer, and the Arizona Daily Star's Tom Beal has written a charming obituary that follows all the rules while also revealing far more about the bear's personality than do the usual sugar-coated farewells to human beings. Read the obit Tom wrote, and then for samples of typical warts-and-all English obituary, go here and here, and read this overview published a few years ago in Slate.



    Say I in the current Tucson Weekly:

    The pastorela tradition has thrived in Europe (and later Latin America) since the Renaissance. It has flourished in Tucson for only 11 years, but already, it's gotten an overhaul.
    Every December, Borderlands Theater presents its version of the traditional pastorela, a retelling of the Christmas story in which shepherds must make their way to a certain Bethlehem manger despite the temptations and obstructions of an assortment of devils. Each community's pastorela is a little different, always updated with references to the past year's very real malefactors and benefactors.
    Borderlands' A Tucson Pastorela for 10 years was written by the San Diego-based Max Branscomb. The basic storyline remained intact from season to season, but each year's show was crammed with new pop-culture and local references. It was starting to look a lot less like Christmas than like a Gaslight spoof of Christmas pageants.
    This year, Borderlands commissioned its literary manager, accomplished playwright Toni Press-Coffman, to fashion a new script. The result is more artful and serious-minded; it's also initially slower and less blatantly jokey than Branscomb's efforts. Kids and adults seeking ultra-light holiday entertainment may not regard this as an improvement.
    Find out why here.



    At the end of my post about dangerously dumb advice from a consultant to the Oregon Symphony, I wrote, “I can’t wait to see what A.C. Douglas has to say about this.” Well, Mr. Sounds and Fury has weighed in, and he is not only incredulous but speechless (although, amusingly, it does take him a few paragraphs to get to the speechless part). Orchestral oboist Patricia Mitchell is also indignant, but much more polite about it than I was. She asks a very good question: “So tell me ... if you go to a rock concert do you expect to hear rock music, or symphony music? If you go to a Willie Nelson concert do you think you'll hear Willie or Beethoven? And when you go to a symphony concert do you think you'll be hearing Paul McCartney?” Well, OK, she acknowledges that Paul has broken into the classical biz, but, really …
    While you’re surfing, check out what the Oregon Symphony’s own principal violist, Charles Noble, has to say about the related subject of inspiring more and bigger corporate gifts. One of his points: “The answer clearly isn't ‘dumbing down’ what we do, but we can make what we do relate more to people's everyday lives, or at least the everyday lives that they wish they had.” Yes: the everyday lives people wish they had. There’s an important element of fantasy, delight and challenge in classical music that places it not out of our ordinary reach but just a bit beyond our easiest grasp. We have to try just a little harder to “get it,” and that’s why we feel so rewarded when we make the effort and find that we can succeed. No orchestra will build an audience by playing music so easy that it bores us.

Classical Music,


    The Oregon Symphony is in the hands of a fool named Elaine Calder, whom the Portland Oregonian describes as “a straight-talking Canadian arts consultant who spent the past five years turning around the continent's northernmost professional orchestra, the Edmonton Symphony.” Not only is she stupid; she’s dangerous, because she’s giving bad advice to a troubled orchestra. According to the newspaper article, here’s what Calder identifies as one of the orchestra’s main problems:

    "We do a lot of classical programming." Too much, she means. "At the beginning of the 21st century, you can no longer look at any market as homogenous. You've got to find niche markets, and I don't see too much of that here."
    Edmonton's example is instructive. When the Canadian orchestra played with Christian soft-rock singer Michael W. Smith, people snapped up $250,000 worth of tickets, nearly all by people who had never attended the symphony.
    "There's an audience that is happy to come to symphony concerts if you play their music," Calder says. She mentions the Oregon Symphony's "Gospel Christmas" concert last weekend, which has already sold $20,000 in tickets for next year.
    "What we're seeing is, they'll come if they know the music." Calder is proposing a major shift in programming: Give audiences what they want to hear, not just what the music director thinks they should hear.
    There are so many things wrong with those statements. Let me point out the most obvious: People can already hear “their music” by going to concerts that showcase individual rock musicians and gospel choirs. It isn’t as if they’re deprived. Now, if they have easy access to “their” music the way it’s meant to sound, why would they want to pay at least double the price of a regular ticket to hear “their” music schlocked up with sappy orchestra accompaniments? How can a symphony orchestra justify its existence by being reduced to an inconsequential backup band for pop acts? These are not what Calder calls “symphony concerts,” because no symphonies are involved. A symphony is a composition, not an ensemble; "symphony orchestra" means that the orchestra is a classical band, not a dance combo.
    And if Calder is so interested in “niche audiences,” how can she overlook the fact that the classical audience itself is already niche? How about serving that niche?
    Get this straight, moron consultants: The goal of an orchestra is not to serve pablum to the greatest number of people, competing with myriad other organizations that are equipped to do it better and cheaper. The goal is to excel at a particular kind of music the orchestra is specifically designed to fit, and to serve audiences inclined to give that music a try. Period.
    I can’t wait to see what A.C. Douglas has to say about this.

Classical Music,


    Talk about donning gay apparel …

    A gruff, aging man sits alone in front of his television on Christmas Eve. He's too cheap to pay for premium channels, so he flips irritably through the usual offerings: It's a Wonderful Life. How the Grinch Stole Christmas. Humbug, all of it.
    The joke is that this man is a 21st-century version of Ebenezer Scrooge, and he inhabits one of the hoariest Christmas tales of all: Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol. Yet we find this "Ben" Scrooge not in Victorian England, but in contemporary America. He's a bitter, self-loathing interior designer. He's gay. And so is nearly every other character in Joe Godfrey's A Queer Carol, being presented by the Alternative Theatre Company.
    Godfrey's treatment of the Dickens story doesn't actually stray too far from the original. True, it's updated and queered, but it remains a serious-minded account of how one man's soul gradually withers but is revived by ghostly visitations on Christmas Eve.
    You can find my full Tucson Weekly review here.



    NPR News is heavily playing the story of Democratic Sen. Tim Johnson of South Dakota undergoing surgery after an apparent stroke. This is valid national news—control of the Senate hinges on Johnson’s health, because his state’s Republican governor could replace him with a Republican—but to what purpose did NPR play a recording just now of Johnson becoming disoriented when the stroke hit during a conference call? You could call this a number of things; I’d start with “tasteless.” NPR News producers should be ashamed of themselves.


About Cue Sheet

James Reel's cranky consideration of the fine arts and public radio in Tucson and beyond.