Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Musicians as Bureaucrats: The Definition of "Now"

From a Washington Post article on assembling an orchestra to play Carnegie Hall through YouTube auditions:

Tilson Thomas observed that even experienced orchestra players can have trouble shifting from one ensemble to another. He recalled a Carnegie Hall tribute that he conducted shortly after Leonard Bernstein's death, with members of all the orchestras Bernstein had conducted: musicians from the Vienna Philharmonic, the New York Philharmonic and other top-flight ensembles.

At the first downbeat, he said, they had trouble coming in together: "There were at least five discernible attacks, because people had such different assumptions about where 'now' is."

Can the universality of music, and of YouTube -- or a strong conductor -- trump 70 different national definitions of "now"? The answer to this question should, at the very least, make for an interestingly different kind of concert.

It's an unexpected example of the importance of shared definitions, and the problems of merging institutions. It also shows musicians being bureaucratic, which they are.

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