On August 23, an internal email from the Sheraton Cadwell Orchestra Group in Canada was made public. I could describe it, but as it is almost too ridiculous to believe, we will just use the screenshot:
For anyone who may find that difficult to read, here is the email in full (with some very important wording in bold font by yours truly):
“We have processed a number of video compilations this summer featuring our vocal stylists.
It has been brought to our attention that although almost all of our vocalists are fit and slim – the way our boutique orchestras would like our front line performing artists to be – two of our featured singers were not. And we hope that they would, as such, refrain from using tight-fitting dresses and use loose (less physically-revealing, less physically-accentuating) dresses instead.
Your image is our image.
If you look good, we do too.
While our orchestra do not require our instrumental musicians to look physically fit and slim since they are essentially background wallpaper, kindly be reminded that we have a different expectation from the singers that we selectively choose to feature in our live shows, for our own purposes and at our discretion.
Kindly note that for all future shows – as per our highly selective casting requirements for vocal artists taking on a prominent leading role on stage – only singers who are physically fit and slim (or, at the very least, those who know how to dress strategically/suitably in order to not bring attention to their temporary physical/dietary indulgences) would be showcased with our boutique orchestras
Key personnel, please take note.
It would take a lot more space than a blog to address all of the egregious rudeness, unprofessionalism, and bad manners in this email. I’ll try to sum it up - what the hell were you thinking, ‘The Management’?
Before I begin to address this, there is one very important matter - which I boldfaced above - that I would like to address. Instrumentalists, you are not background wallpaper to us, the singers. Speaking as a professional opera singer who has also done musical theatre and concert work, at no point, ever, have I considered the pit musicians anything less than colleagues and collaborators. This is a disgusting statement to make about highly trained instrumental musicians, and I am very sorry you had to deal with hearing it (and for those who have worked there, had to apparently endure this idiocy.)
Now, to address the comments to the female singers. You will note I say ‘female singers’, as (again as I boldfaced above) the clothing mentioned only refers to dresses. A female singer, Sydney Dunitz, was the recipient of this email and chose to go public with it. Multiple female singers who worked with this group have stepped forward and have received this as well. Beyond the simple rudeness of insinuating that a woman without a slim physique isn’t attractive, there remains the simple fact - at least for classical singers, which the company advertises it performs with - that the body becomes an instrument, and that doesn’t always mean ‘slim’.
Opera singers, in particular, are similar to athletes in the amount of vocal training they undergo to produce a sound capable of being heard in halls over full orchestras, sans microphones or artificial amplification. To produce said sound, every person has a different instrument - their body. Claudia Friedlander, a NYC-based vocal instructor, and fitness trainer, puts it like this: “Where singing is concerned, form follows function just as surely as it does for other athletic endeavors. A body that is perfectly primed for opera singing may or may not conform to cultural aesthetic norms. It is so special and powerful a thing to cultivate a body capable of performing opera. I find it extraordinarily ignorant whenever it is suggested that a singer pursue an aesthetic result without regard for what it might do to the integrity of their instrument.” This statement is no less true for Broadway performers singing eight shows a week - not all of whom are ‘culturally aesthetic’ in looks; no less true again for even major pop stars who may not fit the ‘slim’ mold currently in style.
In addition, it would be remiss of me to not point out that in a visual industry such as performing, eating and body disorders are rampant. My experience as a woman who is slightly less than conventional has been, at times, harsh - but it pales in comparison to the experiences of my colleagues and indeed, to the experience of the women who received this email.
The absolute disregard for the mental effects of these statements by Sheraton Cadwell is appalling; I know personally multiple female performers who struggle with anorexia, bulimia, and disordered eating because of a visual aesthetic that is simply not attainable for every performer - unless, of course, they are willing to sacrifice stamina and in all possibility, vocal quality. In opera, in particular, the performance can be between two to four (!) hours long; again, without artificial amplification. By the stated standards of this email, many of the most world-class voices singing today (and in years past) would be ineligible to ‘work’ for them.
This is absolutely not to say there are no ‘slim’ and wonderful classical singers - indeed, I know many. Some are naturally slim, some are amazing athletes in sports beyond singing; however, to imply that those who are not are an embarrassment to your organization or unattractive is beyond unacceptable.
Oh, and don’t worry, I’ve saved one of the best parts about this wonderful orchestra for last. Despite billing themselves on their website as a source for ‘over 100+ professional musicians’ that ‘contributes to charity’, and that will give you a ‘FREE, no-pay consultation’ when setting up entertainment (for a fee) for your corporate or personal function….
….they don’t pay their musicians.
Thanks to Claudia Friedlander & Susan Eichhorn Young for their insights when writing this article.
UPDATE: 8/24/17 8:45 PM: According to an email sent out this afternoon the Sheraton CadwellOrchestra Group has announced its management team has immediately resigned.
“With our resignation, our financial funding for the Sheraton Cadwell community service project and music training program will also be terminated forthwith with much regret and, as such, the entire organisation (sic) will cease to exist in due course,” an email from “the management” of Sheraton Cadwell Orchestras sent to Global News affiliate station AM640 Thursday afternoon read.
“We sincerely apologize for any embarrassment/harassment that you may experience from media representatives or other individuals/parties as a result of misconstrued/malicious allegations and extremely negative/destructive/evil intent.”
Not for nothing but there is nothing misconstrued from your moronic body-shaming email. But glad to hear you stepped down. Good riddance.