Body-shaming, product-selling, & knowing the difference

Body-shaming, product-selling, & knowing the difference

Jenna Simeonov

Over the span of mere days, the Toronto-based Sheraton Cadwell Orchestra earned lots of attention; first by sending a super body-shaming email to its artists about some of their performance wardrobe choices, and subsequently by announcing that the organization would dissolve. If you’ve not yet read the email from Sheraton Cadwell:

What needs to be said first is that this email is downright &%#$-y. It’s nasty, and so poorly worded that it’s hard to discern whether the person who wrote it is actually this mean, or just has utterly zero manners or social skills.

The email is also a pretty tone-deaf way of dealing with a sensitive issue. Did the folks at Sheraton Cadwell Orchestra actually think something like this wouldn’t become public? It’s 2017: screenshots are a thing, and tsk-tsking someone’s physical appearance in an email is professional and social suicide.

Still, there’s something different about this story; it’s not quite the same situation as it would be if we were hearing of body-shaming emails sent to the members of the Toronto Symphony Orchestra or the Toronto Children’s Chorus. If you peruse the websites of Sheraton Cadwell and its affiliated “boutique orchestras” - which include the Philips Westin Orchestra, the Starlight Orchestra, and Orchestra Copacabana - it’s clear that their “product” is not their music per se. (As it happens, all of these websites are no longer up an running - but we visited in the nick of time.)

“Add a touch of class, elegance, or grandeur to the occasion you are organizing,” urges Sheraton Cadwell Orchestra.

“From serenading soloist, mariachi combo, to a bit band performing your favourite songs with a latin flavour, Orchestra Copacabana will spice up your special event.”

“The Philips Westin Orchestra is a world-class ensemble that distinguishes itself from others by demonstrating that it is in a class of its own with its delightful versatility and stylish refinement.”

In the guilty email from The Management, the term “background wallpaper” is one that irked many. Sure, it’s a demeaning phrase for any trained musician, but it’s not a surprising angle from an organization that also uses the term “boutique orchestra” or any of their other cringe-worthy vocabulary.

So, when it’s fairly clear that the Sheraton Cadwell Orchestra is selling not stand-alone concert events, but fancy nights out for people at events, do they have more of a prerogative to be selective about what their artists look like?

To be clear: outed by this horrid email, the Orchestra has shown themselves to be shallow and mean-spirited. At the very least they could have been more tactful in their objections.

But with a minimal amount of online vetting, a professional musician should be able to tell the difference between an organization which is about presenting concerts that put their artists in the spotlight, and one that offers “background wallpaper” in a variety of patterns and colours. There’s nothing wrong with either, but each come with their own set of expectations.

It’s one thing for the former to explicitly demand a certain “look” from its spotlight artists when the mission is to present top-notch music to audiences who are paying attention. Yet when a party-entertainment agency calls out your performance wardrobe, you have a right to be insulted - perhaps just not surprised.

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