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Virtual Orchestras: Engineering Innovation And Musicians Collide

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2005 Annual Conference


Portland, Oregon

Publication Date

June 12, 2005

Start Date

June 12, 2005

End Date

June 15, 2005



Conference Session

Emerging Trends in Engineering Education Poster Session

Page Count


Page Numbers

10.1453.1 - 10.1453.7



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Paper Authors

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John McGuire

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John Kaplan

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Kathleen Kaplan

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NOTE: The first page of text has been automatically extracted and included below in lieu of an abstract

Virtual Orchestras: Engineering Innovation and Musicians Collide

Kathleen M. Kaplan, D.Sc., John A. McGuire, M.A., Lt Col John J. Kaplan (Ph.D., J.D.) USAF

Howard University/University of Northern Colorado/USAF


Will engineering technology replace musical artists? This replacement nearly occurred in January 2004 when Sir Cameron Mackintosh threatened to replace part of the London Orchestra in the musical Les Miserables with a “virtual orchestra.” Yet, to attend the opera and hearing synthesized music performed is akin to viewing lip-synching arias! Strange as it seems, musicians are being virtualized. The New York City musician strike of May 2003 resulted in not a reduction of nine “pit” musicians, as the theaters had proposed, but a slash of six. To fill in the void of the missing pit musicians, virtual musicians are used.

There is overwhelming empirical evidence that link engineering and music, but this is the first time in history where engineering innovations may render musicians obsolete. In fact, “virtual orchestras” may be the wave of the future. A pit musician costs around $88,000 a year. The small reduction mentioned above, substituting six pit musicians with virtual musicians, will save a theater over $500,000 a year. That figure reflects merely the monetary amount saved; not included are other intangibles, such as the stress of human problems that may occur with the musician. Why wouldn’t a theater want a virtual orchestra?

Some say that virtual orchestras do not give the same quality performance of live musicians, but isn’t it possible to measure the quality of a performance based on engineering principles? Isn’t a note a vibration and thus quantifiable? What about the ethical responsibility of engineering technology? Shouldn’t we as engineers be responsible for our inventions?

These are just some of the questions, mirroring the subjective and objective issues raised by the use of virtual orchestras, that this paper addresses. Included are discussions of the current trend of virtual musicians, the possibility of virtual orchestras, and the ethical concerns surrounding this engineering technology and its use. “Proceedings of the 2005 American Society for Engineering Education Annual Conference & Exposition Copyright  2005, American Society for Engineering Education”

McGuire, J., & Kaplan, J., & Kaplan, K. (2005, June), Virtual Orchestras: Engineering Innovation And Musicians Collide Paper presented at 2005 Annual Conference, Portland, Oregon. 10.18260/1-2--15163

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