Be True to Your School

Via a recent post from piano player and friend JT “Blues” Thompson, I learned about the recent firing of the band leader and backing band of the television show “Dancing With the Stars”. Per the original article on the firing:

The Harold Wheeler Orchestra and Singers, which goes with Wheeler, consists of 28 members and has performed on the show for 17 seasons.

A quote in the article from Ray Hair, the president of the American Federation of Musicians, suggests that it was the band’s contribution to the show that led to it’s wide success:

“People who love Dancing With the Stars also love the superb performances of the orchestra because it is such an integral part of the show,” said Hair. “The tight, elaborate musical productions that catapulted the show into the top 10 in 17 countries can’t be duplicated by recordings and a small combo.”

From an alternative and objective perspective, a musician is an employee hired to a job, and if the employer believes they are not fit for the job, they are free to hire someone else to do it. The article quotes the show’s executive producer, Conrad Green, who, in a previous article with The Hollywood Reporter, explained what about the relationship wasn’t working:

“We feel that there are some types of music and types of songs, a lot of modern music particularly, is so produced that it’s impossible for an 18-piece band to replicate that sound,” said Green. “You get to a point where you’re forcing a band to try and do sound that they just literally can’t pull off.”

While it is never clearly stated, the “shock” making the article interesting lies within the notion that there is something unethical about ABC firing Wheeler and his band whom undoubtedly helped grow the show in its first 17 seasons.

In the case of the article, ABC can be “blamed” for ending their longtime relationship with the band after success had been built, but it’s important to note that band-venue relationships really go two ways. Imagine a scenario where a different network with new nighttime show, with ratings predicted to be above and beyond the success of “Dancing With the Stars”, offered Harold Wheeler and his 28 member band a better deal, so long as they would end their contract with ABC. While the musician community might see this as a better opportunity for the band (a promotion, of sorts), leaving ABC after 17 successful seasons would be unethically similar to ABC firing Wheeler and his band.

On a personal note, when Black Coffee began performing, we were only able to book gigs at few local venues. This was due to the Catch-22 of needing some name recognition to get in the door. One local establishment that opened their doors to us with wide arms was Pleasant Gap’s Red Horse Tavern. Over a year or two, our occasional weekend gig increased the restaurant’s business when they would have otherwise closed their door after dining hours. Though it was a small room with no stage, not performing at the Red Horse because of eventual larger opportunities in the region would just not have been right.

Venues and bands alike, I leave you with the chorus of “Be True to Your School”, written by Beach Boys Brian Wilson and Mike Love:

So be true to your school now
Just like you would to your girl or guy
Be true to your school now
And let your colors fly
Be true to your school

This post is part of the thread: Ethics of the Music Business – an ongoing story on this site. View the thread timeline for more context on this post.