Harmony: The Composer
Orchestra Turns Up the Heat: Rises Above the Ashes of Indifference
I realize this column will threaten my reputation as an impartial music critic.
So be it. I witnessed a genuine miracle at the Phoenix Concert
Hall on Saturday night. Risking my professional life and limb for the
Wildfire Orchestra flabbergasts even me, but here goes.
For weeks I had successfully ducked this performance, though I had heard
rumours a serious comeback was in the works. My editor finally summoned
me to her office last Thursday, pointed at two tickets on the desk,
looked me in the eye and simply said, “Go.” No sweet-talk, no gentle
coaxing, just “go.” Six possible dates turned me down (not all gently)
before I gave up. They too had heard of the Wildfire Orchestra.
I arrived at the theatre expecting the worst and was surprised to see a
few scalpers out front. I thought they were playing some sort of cynical
joke until I saw the SOLD OUT sign on the box office window. Struggling
through the crowded lobby I began to quietly hum the Twilight Zone
theme. The renovators had returned the theatre to its former gracious
glory and the chandeliers were blinding.
I settled into my seat just as the house lights dimmed. The conductor
approached the podium, spoke a few words to the musicians and launched
us into orbit. The orchestra drenched us with a musical fire-hose and
refused to let us dry. As I sat in bug-eyed slack-jawed amazement, I
found no time to reflect on what I was witnessing. My powers of
analytical dissection were mesmerized by the purity of the moment. This
in your face entertainment had no need for lasers, amplifiers or smoke
Since I am a music critic, I had originally intended to fill this column
with a description of the performance; the usual highs and lows.
Afterwards, however, I was overcome by curiosity. How on earth was a
third rate group of so-called musicians transformed into a first-rate
orchestra? This was the real story and I hurried back-stage to flesh it
The last time I reviewed the Wildfire Orchestra the resident composer
was searching for a new venue. Though satisfied with her music she
bitterly resented the conductor’s failure to organize the musicians
properly. He was “one of the boys” rather than their leader, and his
father owned the theatre to boot. As a result, the musicians were
undisciplined and openly hostile at times. Their talents and instruments
were being wasted. She wanted to escape before the orchestra went
bankrupt and tarnished her reputation.
She gave the owner an ultimatum, “Either hire a new conductor or
I’ll quit.” She was shocked when he agreed. The new conductor
arrived a few weeks later and she was prepared for him. Remembering
the former conductor resented advice, she decided to tell the new
fellow a story based on things she had learned from her father; a
The conductor agreed to have coffee with her. After some small talk
she said, “The orchestra is in really bad shape and we don’t have a
lot of time to turn it around. I believe if we learn to look at
problems the same way, we’ll have a better chance of success.
May I tell you how I think this can be done?"
You are probably aware many adjustments have to be made to tune-up
an engine. In older cars, after the spark plugs and ignition points
are replaced, the timing is adjusted with a strobe-light. Good
mechanics adjust each part individually and then tune their
relationship to each another. The engine produces maximum horsepower
when every part contributes to the performance. The whole becomes
greater than the sum of the parts. Power reflects harmony.” The
conductor smiled and replied, “I see, you want me to be a musical
mechanic. Makes sense to me. Why don’t we try it out?”
The conductor agreed to motivate the musicians with crisp rewards
and sanctions. Most of them appreciated greater structure as it
strengthened their sense of security and purpose. In addition, by
accepting the composer’s critical comments they inspired her to
The final product spoke for itself and will speak to you, dear
reader, if you can find a ticket.