MPF Says No to Taped Music

Volume CVI, No. 4April, 2006

John C. Hall, Jr.
Click for larger image.

Each year, Local 802 musicians lend their talent to “Broadway on Broadway,” produced by the League. But the annual show is starting to use more taped music. Photo by Walter Karling.

Taped music has invaded Times Square. For the past 15 years, the nonprofit Music Performance Fund, which co-sponsors live music projects, has given money to “Broadway on Broadway,” an annual Broadway revue in Times Square, produced by the League and the Times Square Alliance. Last year, however, the MPF was shocked to notice that eight of the shows utilized recorded tracks for their performances – while the live orchestra sat and waited. John C. Hall, Jr., the trustee of the MPF, put the League on notice. Below, Hall gives readers a history of Broadway on Broadway – and a warning.

The year is 1991. After months of brainstorming, an important project is conceived to celebrate live musical theatre. The name of the presentation is “Broadway on Broadway,” the principal sponsor of the music is the Music Performance Fund, and the musicians are members of Local 802.

The MPF is part of the creation of this New York extravaganza as it not only highlights live theatre but, most importantly, pays homage to the mystique of live music and is in conformance with the mandate of our mission: “live, free to the public.”

It is in all participants’ interests to bring to the public live theatre productions if society is to continue to enjoy and support this genre of the arts and entertainment. Indeed, the future of theatres, producers, artists, musicians and allied crafts can very well depend on the success of such a venture. And a success it was.

That’s a thumbnail sketch of the creation of Broadway on Broadway, which, after a shakedown period, became a yearly highlight of New York City. Remember please that the word “live” was the basis on which the presentation was created and continues to be its principal underpinning.

However, something happened in 2005. Without notice to the MPF or the musicians or anyone involved in playing or paying, a portion of the music was prerecorded and delivered to the public in that manner.

What happened to the all-important factor of live presentations? Who gave the right to the producers of the event to make such a radical change?

Up until now, I, as trustee of the fund, have not received an explanation, but rather a caustic response to my letter to the president of the League, using the tactic of a best defense is an offense.

Must we assume that “live” means what fits the purpose of the moment, no matter the understanding and agreement of all parties over the years? Live theatre is “live” in all aspects, and that’s what all parties agreed to advertise and promote.

As far as the MPF is concerned – and everyone is well aware of it – the provisions governing the granting of funds clearly state that projects must be live performances free to the public. We have been the sole sponsor of Broadway on Broadway’s live music since the very inception, and for us and the musicians to be treated in the manner that occurred in last year’s production reaches a new low in bad faith.

In today’s culture, recorded music is a wonderful experience in that people can hear their favorite music of any type, at any time, in any place. However, even the advancements in sound recordings and delivery have their limitations. Prerecorded tracks cannot replace the majesty of live music, just as motion pictures and television cannot replace the live theatre. Each discipline has its own place for audience appreciation.

Let all of us who conceived Broadway on Broadway in 1991 remember that and act accordingly.

For more background, see Jack Gale’s story, “A Turn for the Worse”, in the November 2005 issue.