It takes just as much time to rehearse and get a string quartet of Mozart ready for performance today as it did 200 hundred years ago. But labour costs are nondecreasing, rising faster than productivity, as the economists Baumol and Bowen argued in their seminal book “The Performing Arts — the economic dilemma” (1966). Several economists, including Tyler Cowen, have refuted what has become known as the Baumol Cost Disease or the Baumol-Bowen Effect. [Read a good explanation in New Music Box.]
While it’s true that it takes just as much time to rehearse a piece now as when it was first composed or premiered, I believe there are other ways to overcome the cost disease and indeed negate its existence. One of the things I’m trying to do as a pianist is to play the same piece with different instrumentalists. Originally written for klarinet and piano, Schumann’s Fantasiestuck op. 73 works well with bassoon, horn, and cello. It’s like substituting ingredients in cooking. The result is not entirely the same but I don’t have to learn a new score.
Recently I told a composer that I had started working with a cellist. I posed the question, “I wonder how piano, guitar, and cello will sound together.” No sooner said than done, I received a new composition for this combination and shared it with the guitarist and cellist. After a few tries, we decided to record it and send to the composer as an mp3 file. This is what I call “just in time collaboration.”
Without notational software, the composer might have taken longer to compose this trio. He wouldn’t have been able to “publish” it as a PDF document and e-mail it us. Notational software such as Sibelius and Finale have become essential for composing, arranging, and transposing music.
Another example of a recent “just in time collaboration” happened today.
This morning the sound engineer who is mastering our first CD came to our home in Utrecht to set up a test recording. We had told him how difficult it was to find a suitable location for recording. We had gone to a church and found the reverberation too high. We had tried to record at a music school but got interrupted by outdoor construction. In the end, we hired a studio that was beyond our budget. He said that recording from home would save us time and stress and was eager to test our instruments and acoustics.
We played Piazzolla’s Tango number 2, originally for two guitars but arranged by English composer David Harvey for piano and guitar. We used our own Zoom recording device as well as the sound engineer’s professional close miking system. We were able to plug the results into the stereo system and listen right away.
Next we played the Fritz Kreisler version of Manuel de Falla’s Spanish Dance from the opera La Vida Breve. I was happily surprised to get the sample recording by e-mail this afternoon. Click to hear Bekkers Piano Guitar Duo play de Falla’s La Vida Breve on a 2005 Hilhorst concert guitar and 1909 New York Steinway.
I am sure there are other examples of how technology, advanced management practices, and operational research methods can reduce the high transaction costs of the performing arts. I would love to find a way to reduce the amount of administration that engulfs musicians. Please don’t tell me the obvious: hire an agent or an arts administrator!