An open letter by Gene Ramsbottom, principal clarinet for the CBC Radio Orchestra.
The CBC Radio Orchestra had flourished for 67 years as a studio broadcast recording orchestra, with occasional public concerts and important tours of Canada’s far North. Radio broadcasting provides a viable alternative to transporting an orchestra around this vast country. CBC Radio reaches every community in Canada, whereas moving an orchestra around by float plane would be absurdly expensive.
Over the past thirty years, CBC Radio’s overseas service has coordinated live-to-satellite orchestra broadcasts in simulcast events to 36 or 38 countries. Canadian composing and performing talent has been fostered through CBC’s many broadcast programmes, festivals and competitions. The CBC Radio Orchestra is internationally renowned for its innovative programming and devoted listener base - statistics that don’t show up in Canada-only surveys.
Only three years ago, the current CBC administration obliged the orchestra to move from its less expensive studio broadcast environment to the public stage. Costs of theatre rental, ticket sales, promotions, flyers, programmes, and higher artists’ airplay fees, together with a restrictive no-fundraising policy, resulted in an operating deficit. At the same time, new internet-broadcast fees and royalties added to the CBC’s financial woes. Management responded by declaring the orchestra too expensive to sustain.
Lost in the corporate spin was the fact that it was far cheaper to feature the orchestra from the CBC Vancouver Studio One broadcasting facility. Rather than return the orchestra to its former studio broadcast business model, management succumbed to another outside agenda - that of independent producers. The $50,000 Globe and Mail ad a few weeks ago showed the wholehearted endorsement of the international music industry, which stands to benefit in the short term from the changing agenda of the CBC executives responsible for axing the CBC RAdio Orchestra.
Sadly, by September, the devolution of CBC Radio Two programming will probably end up in a catastrophic loss of audience, culminating in a nationwide listener boycott. CBC Radio Two will have become just another pop-jazz, blues, world-fusion-roots, light accessible classics forgettable music station. The damage will take years to unravel, as the CBC’s core audience becomes lost to commercial stations, ipods and CDs. True, the “concerts-on-demand” proposed by the CBC executives are an interesting delicatessan salad-bar approach to allowing audiences to make their own listening choices. But so is putting on earphones and dialing one’s ipod selections.
Many other countries are proud of their national radio orchestras. Canada, however, is joining the United States in not having one. Consider how many performers’ voices will be silenced as a result of the commercial music industry’s lobbying. The loss of the CBC Radio Orchestra strips away a piece of Canada’s national heritage. This is cultural bullying, cultural vandalism, cultural terrorism. What of the investment, across so many decades, of the funds and energies of so many groups of people? The Canada Council, provincial and local arts councils, national, provincial and local music festivals and competitions, public and private scholarships, estate gifts, bursaries to universities and colleges, and countless others have helped build the multi-faceted infrastructure necessary to to foster the “non-vogue” musical art forms, which have been focused through the artistic prism of the national radio orchestra. A huge part of Canada’s heritage will be demolished by the smashing of this cultural jewel, and the fundamental nature of Canada’s public broadcaster transformed into a confederation of independent regional productions.
Try to imagine the Roman Catholic Church eliminating the office of a central figure, such as the Bishop of Rome (the Pope) as “too expensive to susatin.” Imagine the Church deliberately eliminating its central representative, its focusing spiritual force. This is not so different from what the CBC executives have decided to do.
Becoming a CBC-commissioned composer or guest soloist or conductor featured with the CBC Radio Orchestra requires running a complex selection gauntlet. Those selected are adjudged the best the country has to offer. Many young composers and performers launched by the CBC Radio Orchestra have gone on to illustrious careers. Generations of children have been introduced or exposed to CBC Radio’s classical programming before and after school. To elide that a five-hour, mid-day segment of classical music now constitutes sufficient programming severely delimits the next generation’s interest in and knowledge of the “non-vogue” art forms. Symphony managers across the country should take notice - theor jobs, for the next twenty years or more, are about to become far more difficult.
If the same triumvirate of CBC executives got hold of the funding reins of the symphonies across Canada, they would no doubt soon argue that it was too expensive to sustain 30 various-sized orchestras, and that federal and provincial funding would best be concentrated in one orchestra, most likely based in Toronto. Through a series of regional programming initiatives coordinated by the cabal, that singular symphony would be able to serve the entire country. Just as the CBC budget inexorably shrinks by a million dollars each year, the budget for that single symphony would also contract. The cabal’s cost-benefit analysis would further reduce this fictional Toronto National Orchestra, to avoid obvious redundancies in manpower. Too soon, that fictional Torontonian orchestra would go the way of television shows and commercials, its strings sections reduced to a stack of synthesisers. Those executives would readily concur, after another budget cut, that the whole orchestra could be rendered by synthesisers, and that a sole cultural performance resource could be operated, like the CBC’s digital radio service, out of a single, computer-filled room. There would be no need for concert halls, so the real estate could be sold to developers. The perfect music would come from the CBC’s synthesiser orchestra. Virtual orchestras are already a reality. The executives would win big bonuses for meeting the country’s diverse musical cultural needs with an ever-diminishing budget. Unexpected windfalls could be had as zealous administrators realized that university music schools, conservatories, and public/private school music education programmes were unnecessary. There would be no point in a career in music in Canada. The one one job, the only job left in a once struggling industry would be that of a lone soul running the computers and synthesisers in the CBC’s basement.
And so would end the Music of the Brave New Night.
former Arts Commissioner for Music,
North Shore Arts Commission
CBC Radio Orchestra
Out For Lunch noonhour concert series
Labels: cbc, letters