Wednesday, August 26, 2020

Costing a performance

Any thoughts about the cost of performance?

When I was young, I learned and performed as a volunteer. So I didn't consider the cost of composing, arranging, managing, and producing. The pieces I did 'appeared before me', and I learned them, usually in the company of other amateur sight-readers. We grew by osmosis, undisciplined for the most part, sometimes present, sometimes absent, sometimes polite, sometimes ugly. We learned though, and produced some real beauty. 

If I ever thought about arranging or composing, it was as a student or as a volunteer again, or later, when I was conducting briefly, as a part of the job. 

And the facilities I used were typically supplied by the church I was part of, or by the organization that was, typically, using church facilities, and I took all this for granted. Eventually I realized that someone must be paying the bills.

And as for production, this has become so easy now that anyone can create a video and a Youtube channel. But how about doing all these things well, as a good example, as a means to getting something worthwhile known in the world, both the liturgical world of the churches and synagogues, and also maybe even as a parable for the world. I.e. it's not just entertainment.

It's the beauty of the message. A word with the tone of voice restored. The music of the Bible is just that and more. You can't hear a passage without the music. The tone is lost without the music. No appeal, no irony, no supplication, no joy. 

That's why I want to perform the book of Jonah - the only sign for a wicked and unbelieving generation. And I have a few others in mind too.

I set Jonah for SATB choir and harp. I also set it for strings with or without harp as a story with a single narrator - saying the parts as the strings play the music derived from the Bible. I think it would work better as a chorus with soloists, but the string version is 'safer' in these pandemic times. And I added some development passages for the music in the strings version.

It's 20 minutes long. So there's the first cost, more or less fully absorbed by me, but if I were to pay the arranger, his fee is $100/finished minute. (Whether paid or not, it was fun to write.)

So right away - before even getting any performers - I have to put $2,000 in the budget. Roughly speaking, I would double this for the cost of one performance - excluding production and admin for the moment. The second $2,000 is for rehearsal time and one performance. Say 6 singers and one harpist, or a great keyboardist who could reduce the harp to a piano or organ. Singers who learned their parts (on their own) could do this for a $250 fee each. That leaves $500 for the sole instrument. 

Or you could use the stringsuite version, and pay the strings. There are 6 players. (I added a double bass.) And the narrator has a dramatic job to put the text across. Phooey, $2,000 doesn't divide equally. And I think the string players would have some arranging to do. Would I get away with such a small budget? And most of the string players I know are very busy teaching.

I haven't begun to consider the cost of publicity and production recording. I expect if we really are going to pay for the time and facilities, we need to double the budget again.

It's quite possible of course to do both versions together. That doubles the musicians. So add another $2,000. Then discuss with the arranger if he will donate his fee. He is, after all, retired.

Imagine how much was spent doing the original work that Suzanne Haïk-Vantoura did on her American tour to hire Chanticleer and to get her work translated into English from the French (in the hopes that the US would be fertile ground). In today's costs including travel and many professionals, $200,000 is my first wild guess at a ballpark number. And she arranged so many pieces. You can view them here. They are handwritten in Hebrew and French. It is clearly many years of work. You can also hear performances at this location.

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