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Why Digital Music Looks Set to Replace Live Performances

Written By The Wagnerian on Wednesday 20 August 2014 | 7:23:00 pm

This August's production of Richard Wagner's four-opera Ring cycle in Hartford, Conn., has been postponed.

Rather than hiring pit musicians, producer Charles M. Goldstein had intended to accompany the singers with sampled instrument sounds, played by a computer. Not a CD, not a synthesizer; the computer triggers the playback of individual notes (“samples”) originally recorded from real instruments.

The reaction of professional musicians—and, of course, the musicians' union—was swift and furious. New York City's Local 802 president called it operatic karaoke. Hate mail poured in. In the end, the opera's music director, as well as two of the stars, withdrew from the production.

I know exactly what Goldstein must be feeling right about now. For my first 10 years out of college, I worked on Broadway shows as a musical director and arranger. In 1993 the group now called the Broadway League (of theater owners) contacted me. They wanted me to demonstrate how well computers and samplers could serve a live performance.

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