A Depressing Comparison (OPL Concert with the New York Voices)

Posted By on May 10, 2008

This past Thursday evening, May 8th, I had the pleasure of hearing the jazz vocal quartet called New York Voices. As a matter of fact, I was in the orchestra for this concert, and I must say, due to a pretty heavy first horn part, I was more than usually preoccupied with my own part in the production. I did however find time to ponder an interesting point. You see, the New York Voices are in every way a brilliantly professional, well organized, sophisticated ensemble. The arrangements of their a cappella vocal repertoire are superb to say the least. And the way I understand it (from the conductor of this particular program, Mr. Gast Waltzing), when asked what they could possibly do with orchestra, they offered us, the OPL, a plethora of songs for vocal quartet, their own combo and symphony orchestra. So their repertoire for this genre is quite on the cutting edge as well. I was informed by a friend who knew them well, that they had just come from Germany, where they had sung a concert of totally different songs accompanied only by their combo. And the day after our gig with them, they were off to perform with the well-known WDR Big Band in Cologne, presenting once again, a totally different program.

So there I sat, on the one number I had free, wishing to God I could be up there with them singing those magnificent arrangements in front of that enthusiastic sold out crowd. And I truly thought that given the chance, I probably could fit in with them. And then I began to think about my career with the American Horn Quartet. I began to compare the AHQ with the New York Voices. The AHQ performs a wide variety of spectacularly virtuoso works at a world-class level. There is no doubt about that. So do the New York Voices. The AHQ had always had a devoted following, as have the New York Voices. And the AHQ has travelled the world, presenting top entertaining concerts with breath taking precision, as have the New York Voices.

So wherein lies the difference? Well, the AHQ has always been immensely frustrated with our self management. Finding an agent or manager has proven to be nearly impossible. On the occasions when I actually received a reply from an agent, they almost invariably wrote the same condemning line: “We will contact you if we ever need a horn quartet”. But NOBODY every really NEEDS a horn quartet. That’s the problem. The AHQ requires an agent with vision, someone who recognizes this unusual group of horn players who seem to always bring audiences to their feet….playing horn quartets. The AHQ also requires (required) a large budget with which to hire arrangers and publicists, you know, the usual pop-hype charade. But we never got that.

The New York Voices have managers, arrangers, agents, travel agents, publicists and a budget. But that’s not the only difference. Their repertoire is from the pop world, albeit top quality composers like Duke Ellington, Paul Simon, Stevie Wonder, the Beatles, etc. And the repertoire of the AHQ is almost exclusively classical, and most of the time, very serious indeed. Our type of music simply doesn’t bring in the huge crowds (although I must take this opportunity to say that we have had a few very large audiences and near rock band-like receptions). Nevertheless, there exists a grand difference between a group like the New York Voices and the American Horn Quartet. We may be just as talented as them. We may be just as driven and ambitious as them. And in our own little horn world, we are probably just as successful as the New York Voices.

So what’s the problem? Why aren’t we electrifying huge audiences and demanding the appropriate fees, and all organized by an agent who truly believes in us and also pockets a pretty piece of change? In the end, there is only one answer:

We’ re just a horn quartet.

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