A sad day for ballet

Ballet-goers who went to see the Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre?s October 6 production of Carmen at the Benedum Center saw more than they bargained for that night. Along with the show, the audience also saw the line of active protestors crowded outside the theater.

Members of the Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre orchestra, as well as several student and faculty members from Carnegie Mellon University, protested outside the theater all four days of Carmen?s performance run. After entering the theater, audience members probably noticed something unusual: The orchestra was not inside the Benedum Center, performing in the pit as it would normally. Instead, the orchestra members were the ones outside holding signs such as ?Live ballet needs live music.?

The Pittsburgh Ballet announced on August 1 that the orchestra would not be used in this season?s performances. Instead, the ballet now performs to an orchestral recording. According to an article in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, the company claims it will save over $500,000 by holding performances without a live orchestra. The money saved would alleviate part of the Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre?s nearly $1 million deficit.

Negotiations had been in progress during the summer between the Pittsburgh Ballet and the orchestra musicians, who are represented by the Pittsburgh Musicians? Union. According to the musicians, the two parties only met for negotiations once, when they requested financial records from the Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre. ?They weren?t forthcoming with all the information that we required,? said George Clewer, president of the musicians? union. ?[We?re] entitled to their financial records.?

The musicians? union, Local 60-471, has filed an unfair labor practice charge, because they were not informed before the PBT eliminated live music for the season and because the full financial records were never provided to the union.

The protests outside Carmen began one hour before the performances and ended once the show began. Marching on the streets outside the Benedum Center, some musicians played their instruments as hundreds of audience members entered the theater. One man played near a sign that read: ?This is the only live music you will hear today.?

Could the situation have been avoided? The debt certainly isn?t going anywhere. Clewer, however, provided a unique perspective, though he notes he does not have an insider?s view on the budget: ?What should?ve happened years ago is [that] everybody who?s responsible for fundraising should have had a better idea
earlier that this situation was going to present itself.?

There?s a difficult debate waging about cutting live music. On one side, the Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre claims financial difficulties have led them to this hard decision. On the other, its musicians claim the decision to cut live music was made unfairly, without their consent, and that the current quality of the ballet is diminished without them.

Though the Pittsburgh Ballet hopes to get the orchestra back as soon as they can, the fact that the musicians were eliminated is frightening for music students. ?If they?re going to can music now,? said Meg Zervoulis, a senior in piano performance, ?once we get out of school the opportunities for us to have live music experiences will be scarce and hence our education will be kind of
obsolete.? Zervoulis helped to organize the group of students from Carnegie Mellon who attended the protests during Carmen.

Clewer also commented on how it is becoming even more daunting to get into the music performance industry. ?In the best of times, in the best of circumstances, the music business is very tough,? he said. ?I think that everyone who?s in music school is probably developing a sense of that, because there?s so much competition,? he added ?When something like this happens, when 40-plus musicians are immediately out of work, it makes it even more difficult. The implication would be that there?s that much less work for anybody.?

Several of Carnegie Mellon?s own music students were at the Benedum Center on October 6, supporting the orchestra and putting their two cents onto signs. Zervoulis, who led the students to Benedum that night, described how Cynthia Anderson came to speak to
students in the music program about the situation with the orchestra. ?Afterwards, we decided to get a group
together,? said Zervoulis.

Zervoulis said that about 25 music students and some faculty members came to the protest. Though not everyone who had heard Anderson speak came to the protest, Zervoulis said, ?I can guarantee that ... everyone [there] was very, very passionate about showing their support in some way. Many of them wrote many personal letters to the organization.?

When they arrived, the students were given flyers to hand out. Zervoulis described the scene: ?Some of the orchestra set up a Dixieland band and we were basically just energizing the people. [Some] people beeped their horns.?

Those who hail from Pittsburgh, or have learned to love it, might look with alarm at the situation of the arts in the city. The Pittsburgh Ballet is not likely to leave the city for good, but concerns have been raised about the quality of the performance now that the dancers perform to recorded music.

?Ballet is not dance with musical accompaniment,? emphasized Clewer. ?To me this would be the same as to put the orchestra in the pit and have them accompany a videotape of the dancers.? He added that by eliminating the musicians the ballet has more or less destroyed the product. ?Jeanne Gleason says she wants to save the
ballet,? he said. ?She already hasn?t.?

On Carmen?s opening night, Jeanne Gleason, chairwoman of the ballet board, spoke to the Tribune-Review about getting the music back into the ballet. ?All of this very negative publicity has impacted us.... We?re trying as hard as we can to get the music back.?

Clewer said he would like to see the orchestra performing again during the current season, though the board?s announcement on August 1 said the entire season would be performed without live music.

With the situation of the ballet orchestra in mind, one might expect that music students would become somewhat discouraged. Though Clewer noted how very competitive the business is, he also said that students need to do what they love most. ?If music is what you really love and there?s nothing else in your life that means as much, you?ve got to do it,? Clewer said. But he cautioned: ?If you feel the same way about selling shoes that you do about music, then go sell shoes.... If music is the only thing you want to do, then you have to do it.?

For students of music, the key to having the drive to succeed in the face of job scarcity may be a desire to achieve a single goal. For the art situation in Pittsburgh, Clewer says the solution may lie in music education.

You don?t start learning when you?re 40 years old, Clewer emphasized; ?You want to see music programs flourish in school rather than being cut out.? According to an article in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, public school music teachers had joined the ranks of the orchestra during the protest. Members of the Pennsylvania Music Educators Association have asked that the association reject an offer to bring student choirs to sing or play music at the Benedum during the Christmas season. The Christmas children?s concerts have been a yearly tradition at the theater.

Members of Carnegie Mellon?s faculty have been directly affected by the switch to recorded music, including Robert Skavronski, the Ensembles Manager for the School of Music. Skavronski is a member of the Pittsburgh Ballet Orchestra and attended the protests outside of Carmen.

The current situation with the Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre is a well known one ? other companies around the country have been forced to switch to recorded music for financial reasons. Both the board of directors for the ballet as well as the musician?s union say they want live music back as soon as possible.

Will music majors become scarcer as the arts in Pittsburgh and to some extent across the nation face financial difficulties? ?I don?t know if it really has that much of a lasting effect on all of the music majors,? said Zervoulis. ?I think it would be seen as just another sad thing.? If Clewer is right, then those who have the talent and ambition will continue on their paths as planned. ?I still truly believe there?s always room at the top for the best people,? he explained; it?s just a bigger challenge now. ?I never dissuade anybody from going into music. Don?t let them tell you what you can and cannot do.?

As for the future arts supporters in Pittsburgh, the state of the arts in Pittsburgh may lie with those who are growing up to appreciate art now. As Clewer said, ?If we have kids who are sophisticated ... [if] we have bright young people, they will support [the arts]; they will enjoy it.?