From the Ashes
of the Great Western Arts Crisis
The first references to the Great Western Arts Crisis can be found as early as the mid twenty first century, when the western hemisphere's nineteenth and twentieth century tax and corporate structures -which finally had to be completely overhauled by the beginning of the twenty second century- were just beginning to seriously falter. As those institutions began their long and painful death throes, a lot of the collateral damage they first inflicted was on the large, traditional arts institutions, and the performing arts in particular. Oddly enough, drama and live theater had been scraping along on their own for so long already that they were not so much affected at first, and so the first big blows fell on civic opera and ballet companies. By 2030, only two major U.S. cities still had resident opera companies, and only three had a resident ballet -and two of those gave more performances away from their home cities than in them. America's big, traditional orchestras were the next to go. The Los Angeles and Louisville symphonies both held their 'Swan Song' seasons that year, and the next year Salt Lake City, Baltimore, and Indianapolis joined them.
Things were no better elsewhere in the world. The settling of the third world "Eco-Suite" against the nations of the first, in 2044, meant an end to the last great European state supported orchestras. By 2050 the only major symphony orchestras left in Europe were the London Symphony Orchestra, supported by the royal family and its film score contracts, and the Vienna Philharmonic, who's players were too proud to give up in the face of their withdrawn state support, and had attempted to reform as a co-op. They finally disbanded in 2278, after having played two seasons without paying themselves. The Vienna Philharmonic's musicians were not the only ones desperate enough to try such a scheme that year, either. That same year another group of musicians -all players of the traditional western 'classical' repertoire- who had previously no affiliation or acquaintance, decided to try something similar, but for a number of reasons, their efforts were to go on to achieve unprecedented success.
By the twentieth century, for most 'classical' musicians, playing in an orchestra, for union wages, was a job that was done because it was expected of them and it provided benefits, not because the majority of musicians playing in these orchestras felt any particular calling to play this kind of music. Most preferred to play in small ensembles, or as soloists, and felt the most fulfilled in their careers when doing these things, or when teaching and mentoring, not when playing in an orchestra. It had long been observed by music critics in the twentieth century that the highest quality performances were often being produced by local youth orchestras, for whom the material was new, and who might still feel some dedication to their contribution to a larger ensemble. This sort of dedication was rarely to be found in professional musicians.
For this reason, the disbanding of the major symphonies was more of a financial blow than a psychological one to most of their members, though many of their audiences felt considerably more distress at their loss. For classical music fans in towns and cities around the world, filling this void meant a huge increase in the number of new, all volunteer, community orchestras. For professional musicians, the problem was one of finding more paying work with benefits, and over time, many creative solutions to this problem were discovered. For a few, odd musicians, though, and one notable conductor, there was an enormous void to be filled when their orchestras disbanded. For these few, the music they played in the largest ensembles was what gave their lives meaning, and when they found themselves without the institutions they had depended on for supporting their life's work, they found they were ready and able to dedicate their lives to keeping this very special sort of music alive.
In the newly networked world of the twenty first century, it was no difficult task for those with such motivations, once they knew others were out there, to find each other, and to find Lourdes Hamilton-Velasquez, the one time Associate Conductor of the late, National Symphony Orchestra, of Washington, DC. Ms. Hamilton-Velasquez had been just beginning what might have been, by all rights, a promising career, when all of her potential employers began to vanish. She was young, hungry, and wanted an orchestra to conduct more than anything, and when her last position vanished she put out the word: she was willing to play with anybody who was willing to play in an orchestra with her.
On March 8th, 2050, the same day that the Vienna Philharmonic announced it's desperate scheme to remain afloat, Lourdes and 150 other musicians from around the world all net-conferenced live and began planning how the institution which would become the O.E.P.F. Philharmonic could be bought into existence. Two months later they met in person, in Toronto, and played together for the very first time. One month after that they met in Johannesburg to rehearse and gave a free concert, and the month after that they met in Helsinki to do it again. At each meeting and rehearsal they worked out still more of the details of how the orchestra would operate, and, after another half dozen concerts and sessions, played all over the world, on December 21, 2050, Lourdes Hamilton-Velasquez and 80 other musicians signed the charter officially forming the cooperatively owned and managed ensemble which, over the previous year, come to be referred to as the "Oldest Established, Permanent Floating Philharmonic."
Diligent musicological research will reveal that this name is draw from a twentieth century 'musical comedy' by composer/librettists Rogers and Hammer stein, called Guys and Dolls, and that the phrase originates as the "Oldest Established, Permanent Floating, Crap Game in New York"(a title of one of the songs). One of the musicians, it is not known who, first joked that the orchestra ought to be named so in honor of the vagabond and rootless nature of their new ensemble, and the name stuck -or at least no one could think of anything better suited. The name is, unarguably, overlong and unhandy, and even it's more commonly used abbreviation is a little awkward; it's members and their close associates generally refer to the orchestra as 'the Phil'.
An Ensemble Finds
The first decades were lean ones for the Phil. They tried an ambitious once a month program in the first year, and quickly cut back to quarterly concerts once they learned that the income from their concerts was not covering the travel costs of all the orchestra's members. By the time that the Vienna Philharmonic had finally reached it's demise the Phil seemed like more of an expensive hobby (everyone paid their own travel expenses at this point) for it's members, but an important one, none the less. By the turn of the next century, however, the Phil's members began to understand just how important their 'hobby' was.
With only a handful of large symphony orchestras world wide, few if any musicians pursued the craft of conducting large ensembles in their educations. Without conductors, even the volunteer community orchestras found across Europe and the U.S. began to disband, and hardly anyone missed them. In the year 2100 the O.E.P.F. Philharmonic was one of only four ensembles playing the large orchestral repertoire, by 2140 it was one of two -the other being the L.S.O., still being supported by the British royal family.
As it marked it's first century of existence O.E.P.F. Philharmonic's financial cooperative was breaking even, delivering six concerts in six different cities in a year, and now paid travel expenses for the musicians and their immediate families. The Phil had gone from being an expensive hobby to being a cheap one with world travel benefits, and as such, began attracting a wider variety of members. This, as it turns out, was a critical development.
Though different styles and ways of playing and composing music may commonly fall forever out of fashion, musical instruments seldom do. No instrument is irredeemably tied to any style of music, though it was once thought so; the multi-cultural 'World Music' movement of the turn of the twenty first century proved otherwise. Hence, even if no one was performing Mahler symphonies, plenty of people were still interested in playing violins and violas, oboes and flutes, or trumpets and trombones. The variety of different ways such instruments can be used has yet to be exhausted. This was why, -now that they had become more 'affordable'- whenever, and where ever the Phil happened to hold auditions (which was whenever, and where ever they happened to incur a vacancy) there was never any shortage of talented applicants.
The Phil never took on more than two or three new members at any audition, and each position often had a dozen or more applicants, all sufficiently skilled to play with the orchestra. Since selection of new members was done by committee, it became customary to have new applicants play in a small group with the members of the selection committee, in addition to the customary solo technique and sight reading demonstrations. Over the years, various selection committees came to the conclusion that a candidate's fitness to play with the Phil was far more readily determined by their ensemble playing than their solo performances, and so candidates were eventually subjected to two, three or more small ensemble sessions with a variety of orchestra members, in order to determine their 'ensemble sense'.
The Phil's members had made the critical discovery that if six candidates are equally technically endowed, they are almost certainly not identically endowed with the ability to fit in and blend their music with an ensemble's, or this ensemble's in particular. It is a unique and seldom sought or even identified skill, which enables the player to completely surrender their will, or ego, in some sense, to the work being performed, to the ensemble as a whole, and the conductor's instruction, while at the same time aware and in control enough of themselves to monitor their own playing, and adjust it as needed. When the O.E.P.F. Philharmonic came to have a large pool of applicants to draw from, and then came to discover the importance of admitting the musicians possessing the highest ensemble playing skills, they set themselves upon a revolutionary new course, not only for them, but for all of humankind. Not that anyone knew it at the time, of course.
The Phil entered the twenty third century a much more robust institution than when she entered it. By skillfully managing her assets and building her audiences the O.E.P.F. Philharmonic had finally become able to pay a modest salary plus living expenses to all of her members. They toured ten months out of the year, often giving as many as 50 concerts in that time. As always, everyone who played with the orchestra was a member of the O.E.P.F. Philharmonic Coop, but the ensemble had begun to 'stratify' a bit between the majority of members, who would tour and play for four to seven years, and then leave the Phil to settle down, and between a third and a quarter of the members who were the 'lifers' -those with a high tolerance for life on the road, and with long term or life long careers in the Phil. The lifers knew they were different, but they also knew a lot about the Phil. They were just beginning to understand how, by selecting only members with the strongest ensemble sense, it had become something that no other musical ensemble in human history had ever become.
The O.E.P.F. Philharmonic made their first off world appearance on earth's first colony, Horizon, in 2221, and on the following year toured both of earth's established colonies, and made it a policy to tour off earth every season. As humanity moved further out into space, that tour expanded to over ten worlds and fourteen concert sites. Although these tours were expensive, and the Phil generally only barely broke even on them, the members of the Phil felt it part of their mission to carry their nearly lost art out to humanity's most far flung settlements, wherever they were. Toward the second half of the twenty third century, however, something happened to make that much easier.
As she celebrated her bicentennial season, the O.E.P.F. Philharmonic was one of countless unique entertainments which toured the earth and her colonies. Over the years their repertoire had gone from being seen as out of fashion, to antique, to ancient, to obscure. For most of their audiences, the sights and sounds of a symphony orchestra were a novelty, though the Phil did have their dedicated fans -they were regarded as a quaint lot. A few years after that much advertised bicentennial season, that began to change.
It was a relatively prosperous and settled time for humankind and, as commonly occurs in such circumstances, popular culture turned to fantasies of the 'grand old days of yore' (in this case, the twentieth century), when folks may have had fairly poorly developed morals, but they sure had great taste in art, architecture and music. Having first manifested primarily as a nostalgic European romantic nationalist movement, the fad came to be referred to as "Euro Chic".
This was the most remarkable piece of good fortune ever to befall the Phil. They could hardly tour more than they did, but now they started booking bigger and bigger venues, and they were being offered higher and higher fees for their appearances. The senior members of the Phil knew that these lucrative conditions would not last, though, and began to plan a project that would put their new wealth to good use. Eventually it was decided to start a fund to lease their own tour ship, as it would considerably defray the costs of their space tours, which they were constantly being asked to expand.
The O.E.P.F. Philharmonic's momentary popularity plateaued around 22 75, and by 2280 had finally begun to wane, but they'd assembled a considerable fund by then, and were ready to commence their search for a charter ship and the 'Permanently Floating' Phil's first home. It took a few more years, but the Phil was in no hurry, more interested in finding a ship and crew who's temperament suited the Phil's than in just finding a good cheap vessel with sufficient facilities. They knew they wanted more than that, and they knew they'd have to look for a while to find it. After three more years of searching, they finally did.
The C.S.Y. Lydia was also a one time beneficiary of the Euro Chic fad, in that she was made and designed in response to it. Created late in the twenty third century to reflect the imagined aesthetics of the twentieth, she resembled a space going cathedral, constructed of cast stone and programmed livewood, and was perforated with grand arching windows. Alas, a little over ten years after she had been built, she had fallen utterly out of fashion, and unlike the Phil, she'd had no opportunity to prepare for leaner times. She wa an overly massive, undervalued luxury cruiser with a concert hall, and exactly what the Phil was looking for.
A long term contract with a reliable client was just what the Lydia's Captain, Fionna MacPhereson was looking for, and so a deal was struck. After a little remodeling the Lydia became the permanent home of the Oldest Established Permanent Floating Philharmonic, and the Phil became a year round touring ensemble.
Begin, and the Phil Emerges
With the acquisition of the Lydia, some greater measure of the Phil's potential appears to have been released. Within only five years the Phil, and the Lydia, became the critical factor in human kind's first contact with two new alien species, only the second and third in earth's history.
In the first instance, a series of chance events and a navigational accident bought the Phil and the Lydia to their astonishing first encounter with the species humans came to call 'Squids'. It has been argued that it was the Phil's unusual, but not unexpected, musical response to the Squid's sudden and unannounced arrival on the Lydia that was responsible for their helpful and agreeable demeanor towards humans afterwards.
The second case is more remarkable still. Only a few months after the previous events, as is well known, a 'soldier ship' of the creatures humans now refer to as Cricks 'kidnapped' the fishing and mining colony of New Taipei. Among those activated in the military call up which was issued in response to the attack, was the Phil's new french horn player, Josalind Gates, a weapons technician on leave from Eco-Corps' Space Service. When her ship was shot down patrolling over New Taipei, and the Space Service declared her missing and unrecoverable, the Phil was compelled to respond. The chain of events they set in motion in their efforts to recover their musician eventually placed the Phil and the Lydia -utterly unarmed- between a pair of Crick ships, and an illegal, xenophobic, earth military fleet, both more than ready to attack one another. Only the interactions that the conductor, Maestro Leopold Greyhorse, and other members of the orchestra had had before this standoff prevented the Cricks from determining humans to be hostiles -and for Cricks such determinations tend to be permanent.
The Lydia's and Phil's interference also most likely saved the kidnapped colony, which was also present, in a Crick holding vessel, during the brief exchange of fire, and was shielded by the Lydia. The residents of that colony were only some of the new allies the Phil acquired during those events. The O.E.P.F. Philharmonic became the nearly life long project of the Mere-koon government scout, Trr'chk:ch'ettt (aka: Ch'et), after this adventure, and the uniquely independent starship, the Phoenix came to the aid of the Lydia and the Phil during the Crick standoff, and would shortly come to ask for her help.
The result of this request ended in the Phil and the Lydia's revealing the existence of the mysterious xenophobic fleet (the Enigma Fleet) who they'd previously encountered during the Crick first contact, and intervening so that they were caught and recorded by the independent media. It was in this adventure, however, that the Phil faced her first truly serious internal crisis, when her concertmaster, Rajiv Banarsidas, was captured and tortured by Robertsonian cultists. This anti humanitarian brain washing cult was all but extinct, but a surviving pocket of them were able to seize the concertmaster, and traumatize him to prevent him from making music in any way, using techniques which had proved effective in ending the careers of a number of artists in the past. In fact, no victim of a Robertsonian brainwashing session had ever recovered their abilities afterwards.
Here, both the great vulnerability, and the -as yet unrecognized- strength of the Phil became clear to many of her long term members. The Phil was unable to cast Rajiv off as concertmaster, as apparently irrevocably damaged as he was. No one could bear the thought of having anyone fill his position, and the assistant concertmaster adamantly refused to. But the empty concertmaster's chair was like a festering wound to the ensemble, as long as there was no hope for his recovery -and if he hadn't, Rajiv's assault might have eventually caused the dissolution of the the O.E.P.F. Philharmonic.
Some few of the old timers knew, and some fewer were willing to admit, that over the years, the Phil seemed to have developed some kind of connective 'powers' -most notably in cases where members of the orchestra who were away from the ensemble while it was playing, frequently sensed when and what the orchestra was playing. The most remarkable such occurrence had been shortly after Josalind Gates' crash on New Taipei, when the entire horn section had disrupted a rehearsal by responding to a sudden compulsion to play the rhythmic pattern of "S.O.S." In the desperacy of the moment, it seemed to some of the more mystically inclined members of the Phil, not out of the question that the Phil might be able to 'heal itself', given enough time and freedom from other interference, and in the desperacy of the moment, Rajiv agreed to try.
Though no one, even Rajiv, has ever offered a theory as to why this approach worked, it did. A little over a year after his assault, Rajiv returned to the concertmaster's chair in a concert during which he also played a solo -openly refuting the corrupt puritanical 'morals' of the Robertsonians. Scientists and commentators called it a miracle, but Rajiv steadfastly refused to give interviews, leaving the public at large to speculate about how Rajiv was cured. The members of the Phil, however, and not just the long term members, were facing a new reality. Rajiv's recovery was irrefutable proof that there was more to the Phil than a highly cohesive and talented ensemble, but not even the Phil's Maestro Greyhorse knew what they were, or what they were becoming.
the Universal Language
The concert in which Rajiv made his historic reappearance was given as part of a function at the neutral space diplomatic complex, Contact Station, celebrating the new pact between the Humans, Mere-koons, and Cricks. Neither the concert nor the treaty would have taken place if members of the Phil had not, once again, foiled plans by members of the xenophobic Enigma Fleet to sabotage the proceedings. Once again the O.E.P.F. Philharmonic had intervened to preserve interstellar peace, and once again the Phil had managed the trick of somehow alerting others when one or more of her members were in danger. While the most open minded members of the Phil were finally beginning to fashion the theory that the orchestra was somehow becoming a sort of gestalt being -mainly living only when the orchestra played, but at other times as well, the human United Planets government authorities were proposing yet another odd destiny for the O.E.P.F. Philharmonic.
Authorities had not failed to notice that the O.E.P.F. Philharmonic's actions had prevented inter species was in two instances, and considerable aided inter species cooperation in another. Neither had they failed to notice their own insufficiencies in the same events, and they had, in the end, come to the conclusion that engaging an outside agency for future first contacts might well be the best way to prevent future disasters. Having made that determination, the choice for that outside agency was a simple one, and on May 10th, 2290 the O.E.P.F. Philharmonic wa officially notified that they had been appointed the official First Contact Ambassadors for the Terran and Mere-koon alliance.
The Phil accepted the position, thinking both that they could hardly refuse, and that it was hardly likely that they would be called upon to fulfill their duties any time soon. About the latter, they were wrong, about the importance of the Phil's perspective in interactions with new species, they could not have been more right. Only a year later the Harbinger's signal was intercepted by human scientists, and if not for the actions of the Phil and her members in the events that followed, the future for all sentient life in the western spiral arm would have been very dim indeed.
The months and years following the Harbinger's coming were fateful one's for humans and their allies. Humans, Mere-koons and Cricks alike risked, and sacrificed their lives defending their worlds against the oncoming plague fleet foretold by the Harbinger. In their own way, the members of the Phil, and the Phil herself, stood, fought, and died along with them. As crisis after crisis unfolded, and as solutions to each one was found, the members of the Phil began to find out even more remarkable things about the amazing being that their music, and that of their forebears had given life to.
An Infinite, Indefinite Future
Two hundred and fifty years in the making, the O.E.P.F. Philharmonic is possibly the most powerful being mankind has ever created, but not the only one. By the conclusion of the First Defense of the Western Spiral Arm, hundreds of art and music ensembles, and other groups of humans who had worked together in an intimate way for a long period of time learned that they too had formed their own, somewhat smaller than the Phil, gestalt beings. Generally capable of little more than allowing it's members to work together more cohesively, the mere confirmation of their existence gave them and the Phil unheard of additional power. It might well be said that the Phil gained self awareness in the events following the Harbinger's arrival, and in making that leap became a fully autonomous sentient being, entitled to the rights and privileges of any other sentient being, under the Human/Mere-koon charter of sentient rights. Given that fact, it seems that the O.E.P.F. Philharmonic, two and a half centuries of human history behind her, has only begun to make her impact on the history of the universe.
The O.E.P.F. Philharmonic Cooperative has 93 members and one employee -Effie Morganstern, the Phil's manager and agent. The membership is broken down as follows:
First Violins: 10
Second Violins: 10
Bass Violins: 8
Bass Clarinets: 2
French Horns: 4
Keyboards: 2 /Harps: 2
Concertmaster: Rajiv Banarsidas; Asst. Principal: Alice Kwan
Principal: Waliruhdin; Asst. Principal: Einouhaani Vanemoinen
Principal: Louhi Rautavaara; Asst. Principal: Elisandro Civetta
Principal: Silvia Markeridze; Asst. Principal: Frederick Laban
Principal: Reginald Deems; Asst. Principal:
Taylor; Asst. Principal: Sunita Nehru
Principal: Amelia Davis; Asst. Principal: Segi Mitzumi
Principal: Robert Gilette; Asst. Principal:
Principal: Amahl Delemotte; Asst. Principal:
Principal: Ronald Dobberstein; Asst. Principal:
Principal: Nicolai Codrescue; Asst. Principal:
Ingram; Asst. Principal:
Principal: Nils Johanssen; Asst. Principal: Katerina Hamadi
Principal: Harrison Bergeron; Asst. Principal:
Principal: Gamil Henderson; Asst. Principal:
Principal: David York; Asst. Principal: