The discords of health care
Complementarity like orchestral manoeuvres in the dark
Inspired by the memory of a piece in Harper's some decades ago, Dr. David Colman, director of the Montreal Neurological Institute and Hospital, explains what might happen if the bureaucrats behind "complementarity" between Montreal's two teaching hospitals ever got their hands on another prominent Montreal institution:
"Health ministry to streamline the Montreal Symphony Orchestra."
We have learned that, flush with the success of the immensely popular "complementarity" changes proposed by the health ministry to reinvent patient care, medical teaching and research in Quebec - all in the name of reducing costs and "improving efficiency" - the ministry has now taken on the next big challenge: Can exactly the same principles be applied to rework the Montreal Symphony Orchestra? Accordingly, we understand that a second assistant clerk to a sub-sub deputy in the Ministry was sent to a concert - his first - after which he promptly delivered the following recommendations to his superior:
- For considerable periods during the concert, the oboe player and the percussionist had nothing to do. Both jobs could be done by the same person.
- If the pianist would agree not to play just a few notes at the end of each score page, she could turn her own pages, and the page turner position could be eliminated.
- All 20 violins were playing identical notes! This constitutes needless duplication. The staff of this section should be cut drastically.
- Obsolescence of equipment is a particularly serious matter. The program noted that the leading violinist's instrument was several hundred years old. Now, if normal depreciation schedules had been applied, the value of this instrument would have been reduced to zero and the purchase of more modern equipment recommended long ago.
- Much effort was absorbed in the playing of demisemiquavers, which seems to be a frivolous refinement. It is recommended that all notes be rounded up to the nearest semiquaver.
- One air compressor could supply enough air for all the wind and brass instruments. (We should go to tender on this item immediately).
- There was excessive repetition of musical passages. Scores should be pruned to a considerable extent. No useful purpose is served by repeating on the horns something which has already been handled by the strings. It is estimated that, if all redundant passages were eliminated, the whole concert time of two hours could be reduced to 20 minutes and there would be no need for an intermission.
- The position of conductor, a non-player who amazingly is paid the highest salary, should be eliminated. He spends the entire concert waving his arms, apparently a little bit ahead of the orchestra, and with his back rudely to the audience, blocking their view of the cellist and the piccolo player (who are thus invisible as well as inaudible). An inexpensive metronome could replace the conductor at great savings and make it possible also to standardize all movements to the same tempo. Under ministerial edict, a slow hesitation waltz timing would be appropriate. This uniformity, introduced as well in all schools and music centres, would simplify the teaching of music.
(Thanks to Dr. William Feindel, director emeritus of the MNI, who contributed the eighth recommendation.)