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Is a Live Performance ‘Live’ if it has recorded music??

Today I read an article in The Times about the National Theatre sacking the live musicians performing in War Horse. They are replacing their contribution with recorded music. Unfortunately I can’t link the article because it is a subscription account, but this appeared in another paper.

This is quite a surprising decision by the National Theatre: the tickets for War Horse are VERY expensive – I have been put off taking my family due to the costs, but people that have been able to afford it have said it is incredible. My parents who have seen the streamed performance at a cinema and also said it was excellent.

By all accounts the whole performance, which includes the puppetry artistes, actors, musicians, lighting etc is amazing. And this is where the rub is: the live music is PART of the whole performance, whether the musicians are on stage, or playing in the wings. This was the concept of the original production. Is there REALLY going to be a significant saving through sacking the musicians?? How about if the puppets were removed and replaced with films of the horses?? It is the same as cutting the live music.

This possible act by an Arts Council subsidised organisation brings up several points. Firstly, that live music and musicians are not valued for their contribution or skills. We receive a significant number of calls and enquiries asking for live entertainment for free “We have no budget” they indignantly reply to a standard budget question. But more importantly, it blurs the idea of a ‘live performance’. I know that for some time, allegedly, certain ‘artistes’ and ‘singers’ have performed to backing tracks and even, allegedly, mimed. Yet these performances have been marketed as ‘live’ performances. In the West End, legislation prevents producers replacing show bands with recorded backing tracks for musicals for this very reason. Although War Horse isn’t a musical, it does include live music and musicians within the show.

It also highlights the debate about virtual and ‘Real’ elements to any event: I attended an event last year, where a significant sector of the timetable was devoted to a discussion with four people via webcams. The session fell flat because it was too long, there was something missing from the atmosphere. Adding technology is great, but it is important not to be enticed to believe this is better than real. AND I suspect the sound engineer will set the sound levels TOO HIGH for live acoustic music, thus spoiling the atmosphere of War Horse, if this goes ahead….

I look forward to the Musicians Union fighting this one…

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