Saturday, May 31, 2008


The story about the Honda robot which conducted the Detroit Symphony recently seems to have become a media darling. And indeed it is quite a pleasure to watch the little shiny fellow move his arms gracefully and have the orchestra follow him admirably. As we know that orchestra musicians are supposed to play like robots these days, who better to conduct them than the real thing. Although some baton wielders might argue with this, the function of a conductor is to beat time and keep the players together and this the electronic marvel does truly well. Supposedly ASIMO is also programmed to be polite and mild-mannered and speaks to the audience and musicians with respect. No dirty looks, yelling, bodily fluids landing on nearby instruments or other often customary unpleasantness of any kind, nor toe-tapping! No wonder the musicians were smiling and the audience thrilled. Naturally the “Impossible Dream” was perfectly memorized, thus no score was needed. The printed media could replace the cranky old lady of a music cricket with an expert in computing and electronics; a most welcome change in a provincial town.

Just imagine all the money saved by cash-strapped orchestras. After an initial purchase no astronomical salaries to pay, no egos to battle with, no legal threats in the form of lawsuits either. The young pretty ladies (or handsome men) would be left alone. Name the little man in his shining armor something like Mr. Silber, and the usual donor pool would rush to help the organization. Since the robot would not know how to discriminate, even the oldest patron of the arts would be properly complimented, instead of the usual snickering behind the person’s back. “Yes, we love your money but boy, are you ugly and stinky!” No wonder Detroit’s new music man, Leonard Slatkin, rushed to say that the robot did a good job but it can’t really hear what the musicians play or adjust to their playing. Come on, name all the conductors who do hear and try to follow the musicians! It would be a short list, I’m afraid. Beethoven managed fine although he was deaf. Secondly, I don’t think it would be difficult to come up with software to remedy this ‘fault’.

The orchestra in Columbus, Ohio, might have been saved with a silvery electronic gentleman. Instead, they are becoming another entry in the list of dead and dying music organizations. As the United States is rapidly descending to resemble a third world country, more deaths will no doubt follow. If people have to choose between having food, electricity and fuel or expensive theater, opera or concert tickets, the outcome should be a no-brainer. Even multibillionaire Georg Soros recently told an interviewer that people should realize that the good times are over, perhaps permanently. In spite of optimistic opinions about the greenback going up in value and price of crude oil coming down, both continue in their seemingly unstoppable direction, one upward, the other down. Truckers have been forced to quit with diesel fuel at $5 per gallon. There is talk about ordinary gasoline reaching that mark by Labor Day. Am I grateful to be able to work at home; even the college is only a five minute walk away! I wanted to use my frequent flyer miles to attend a funeral of a close relative in Finland. I could have had my ticket but the fuel surcharge would have meant a measly $650 added to the “free” fare. The family understands.

My wife received an interesting piece of mail, regarding the bankruptcy of her beloved Northwest Chamber Orchestra. It is very evident that dark outside forces wanted the “Little Orchestra That Could” terminated, as the amount of money the trustee holds is larger than all the debts and costs of administration. What kind of bankruptcy is that? There was no reason to kill the orchestra that provided its players with benefits, other than what many see as obvious. It is a-polling indeed that some viewed the little group with its gifted conductors, Ralf Gothóni and Joseph Silverstein, as a thorn on their side. As is the case in life, one cannot awaken the dead. The group that survived for over a quarter of a century is missed.

Photo of ASIMO from