The Musicians’ Voice

Volume CIII, No. 2February, 2003

Broadway producers’ threats to use “virtual orchestras” (see January 2003 Allegro) is a hot-button issue for musicians. Two out of three letters this month touched on taped or virtual music, while Sig Singer writes about his memories of Mel Rodnon. To check out Local 802’s latest efforts to combat the virtual orchestra attack, visit our Live Music campaign Web site at


To the Editor:

When is Local 802 going to start communicating regularly with the major conservatories? Our Public Relations Department should be sending out letters like the following, which I wrote to President Polisi of the Juilliard School:

“Dear Mr. Polisi:

I just saw the Roundabout Theatre Company’s production of Tartuffe and was dismayed at the use of recorded music. It is hard to imagine that a director who has thought about the difference between fakery and substance – the central issue of the play – could degrade what is otherwise a praiseworthy production with a recording that is polished, packaged and bloodless, just like the character Tartuffe. The fake French baroque score (though it may only show honest ignorance or bad taste) added to the atmosphere of falseness that the music contributed to the production.

As the president of the foremost school of performing arts, you might find occasion to emphasize live music’s integrity and power to your students. This may seem obvious to musicians, but I wonder if your drama or dance students have thought about the implications of using recorded or synthesized music in their performances. For thoughtful artists, using Sweet-n-Low in a fine soufflĂ© just won’t do.”

–Evan Johnson


To the Editor:

I read with great interest the article written by Bill Dennison on virtual orchestras (January 2003 Allegro). As I read I couldn’t help but think back on my career in music.

As a young man I was befriended by such greats as Bernie Glow, Ray Crisara, Dick Perry, Marky Markowitz, Joe Wilder, etc. As a very young man, I found myself subbing for these guys on shows and dates all the time. The reason I mention this is because I got to see the tail end of what I consider music’s great era. (If we had the administration in place then that we do now, who knows how formidable a force Local 802 would be today.) To quote RMA President Jay Berliner, back then “producers wanted the best. They wanted the best microphones, the best tape, the best musicians, arrangers, etc.” Nowadays, I have seen first hand, they want the bottom-line dollar.

The only way we will win this fight with the producers is to educate the public. The feel of a performance with live music is one that cannot be articulated in words. It is unconsciously felt but very real just the same. A comparison that might be valid is the difference in driving a new Mercedes Benz and a Ford Escort. Both cars will get you where you want to go but the feel you’re left with after the trip is not the same. If the public could be made conscious of this I’m sure they would choose live music.

To quote John Bunch (a great pianist) in a letter to the New York Times circa 1980, “I don’t care how sophisticated this technology gets: one thing is for sure. No one will ever pay $50 to walk into Carnegie Hall and watch someone walk onstage and push ‘go.'”

–George Maniere


To the Editor:

This letter is in reference to the passing of Mel Rodnon (see Requiem in this issue).

In 1966 Mel and I were working in the Sweet Charity orchestra at the Palace Theatre. At that time Mel was active on the Theatre Committee and talked me into being the other orchestra representative to the committee.

When Stan Fishelson (tpt.) moved to Los Angeles Mel replaced him as house contractor. I believe that began his career as a musical contractor. Mel was a new breed of contractor coming to prominence in the waning days of Morris Stonzek and Saul Gusikoff (the two most influential contractors in New York). The difference was that Mel considered himself a sideman who enjoyed being around players.

In the mid 70’s Mel became the contractor of the Westbury Music Fair and put together such an outstanding orchestra that the major entertainers of the day often remarked how happy they were to finally get to New York and hear their music played properly. I was a part of that orchestra for five years and can attest that we didn’t think of Mel as a contractor. He was the lead alto player who made out the payroll and stood up for us when the occasional “big shot” conductor would get too full of himself.

Mel was fun to be around. He was easy going, loyal and had a great sense of humor. And possibly the only playing contractor who could give a chiropractic adjustment.

–Sig Singer