Musical cost benefit analysis

Jokes (?) about conductors are two-a-penny and usually scurrilous, closely followed by jokes about singers (sopranos and tenors top the list) and orchestral musicians (viola players are wantonly insulted). Humorous stories involving orchestras are less common, so here is one that caught my eye. It is a report from a company specialising in management efficiency after attending a rehearsal of Schubert’s “Unfinished Symphony”.

“We make the following observations and recommendations:

1. We note that the twelve first violins were playing identical notes, as were the second violins. Three violins in each section, suitably amplified, would seem to us to be adequate.

2. Much unnecessary labour is involved in the number of demisemiquavers in this work; we suggest that many of these could be rounded up to the nearest semiquaver thus saving practice time for the individual player and rehearsal time for the entire ensemble. The simplification would also permit more use of trainee and less-skilled players with only marginal loss of precision.

3. We could find no productivity value in string passages being repeated by the horns; all tutti repeats could also be eliminated without any reduction of efficiency.

4. In so labour-intensive an undertaking as a symphony, we regard the long oboe tacet passages to be extremely wasteful. What notes this instrument is called upon to play could, subject to a satisfactory demarcation conference with the Musicians’ Union, be shared out equitably amongst the other instruments.

Conclusion: if the above recommendations are implemented the piece under consideration could be played through in less than half an hour with concomitant savings in overtime, lighting, heating, wear and tear on the instruments, and hall rental fees. Incidentally, had the composer been aware of modern cost-effective procedures he might well have finished this work.”

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