In search of orchestral efficiency

Beaten down by budget cutting? Here's a lighter look at the business of bottom lines as spotted on the Internet.

The president of a large California managed-care company was also chair of the board of his community's symphony orchestra. Finding he couldn't go to one of the concerts, he gave his tickets to the company's director of healthcare cost containment.

The next morning instead of the usual polite remarks of thanks, the man handed the president the following memo:

"The undersigned submits the following comments and recommendations relative to the performance of Schubert's Unfinished Symphony by the Civic Orchestra as observed under actual working conditions.

(a) The attendance of the orchestra conductor is unnecessary for public performances. The orchestra has obviously practised and has the prior authorization from the conductor to play the symphony at a predetermined level of quality. Considerable money could be saved by having the conductor critique the orchestra's performance during a retrospective peer-review meeting.

(b) For considerable periods, the four oboe players had nothing to do. Their numbers should be reduced and their work spread over the whole orchestra, thus eliminating peaks and valleys of activity.

(c) All 12 violins were playing identical notes with identical motions. This is unnecessary dupliation; the staff of this section could be drastically cut with consequent savings. If a large volume of sound is required, this could be obtained through electronic amplification, which has reached very high levels of reproductive quality.

(d) Much effort was expended playing 16th notes. This seems an excessive refinement, as most of the listeners were unable to distinguish such rapid playing. It is recommended that all notes be rounded up to the nearest eighth. If this is done, it would be possible to use trainees and lower-grade operators with no loss of quality.

(e) No useful purpose would appear to be served by repeating with horns the same passage that has already been handled by the strings. If all such redundant passages were eliminated, as determined by the utilization review committee, the concert could have been cut from two hours to 20 minutes, thus providing greater savings in salaries and overhead. In fact, if Schubert had attended to this matters on a cost-containment basis, he probably would have been able to finish his symphony."