Los Angeles Musicians Get a Makeover Columnist Joel Stein takes us behind the scenes in the world of classical music. When the Los Angeles Philharmonic isn't dressed in evening wear, and the members are allowed to dress as they please, it can be a disaster. He gave a few lucky musicians a makeover.

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This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Lynn Neary in Washington.

Tomorrow on TALK OF THE NATION: you may remember writing your college thesis. It probably took an IV coffee drip, a couple of all-nighters in the library, maybe an extension from a permissive professor. But do you remember what it was about? We'll reminisce about the strange and consuming experience of writing your college thesis. That's next TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

Right now, symphony goers are accustomed to certain formalities. They're used to seeing members of the orchestra all dressed up in formal gowns and tuxes. So, when the L.A. Philharmonic ushered in casual Fridays, allowing musicians to wear whatever they please, some patrons were surprised to discover that they're beloved musicians were fashion challenged.

So armed with the crew of stylist, L.A. Times columnist Joel Stein sought to give the L.A. Philharmonic a fashion makeover. Today, we talk to him about the results. And we'd love to hear from you. Have you ever participated in a makeover? What were the circumstances, and how did it feel? Give us a call. Our number here in Washington is 800-989-8255. That's 800-989-TALK. Or send us an email to talk@npr.org.

And joining us now is Joel Stein. He's a columnist for the L.A. Times and author of the op-ed "Casual Friday at the L.A. Phil." He joins us from his office, his home office in Hollywood, California. Good to have you with us, Joel.

Mr. JOEL STEIN (Columnist, L.A. Times): Thank you. You guys don't cover enough makeovers. I think NPR in general doesn't do enough makeover stories, so I'm glad to be part of that.

NEARY: You got to have to work - it's, kind of, visual so you're going to have to help us with this, you know.

Mr. STEIN: Yeah.

NEARY: Okay.

Mr. STEIN: (Unintelligible) you guys up on this. So I'm glad you guys are in the game.

NEARY: First of all, why did the L.A. Philharmonic decide it was a good idea to go casual, in the first place, on Fridays?

Mr. STEIN: Well, it's a whole deal that I'm trying to attract some younger audience members. So they have - it's an hour long, the whole thing. There's no intermission, and then you are encouraged to hang out at the bar with the orchestra members afterwards. So it's supposed to be a little younger and more fun.

NEARY: So - and what - how did, you know, regulars at the symphony react to this? What did you start to hear about?

Mr. STEIN: Those people that have subscriptions, like, 60 percent of the people don't even know it's a casual Friday. They just show up in their normal clothes and are surprised that the orchestra members aren't wearing tuxes.

NEARY: So what kinds of information was dribbling back to you as a columnist about what people were wearing?

Mr. STEIN: Well, I had some friends who worked over there and she showed me some pictures without revealing who my source is. I could see now, but I'd go to jail for the phone(ph).

NEARY: Right.

Mr. STEIN: But, yes. She showed me the pictures, and they were literally fanny packs. And I'm not a great dresser myself, but I knew I wouldn't wear a fanny pack or Hawaiian shirts. There are guys in socks in sandals. A lot of those, kind of - I saw one that was like a - those pull-up elastic pants. It was not a good scene. You know, when you've been doing this since, you know, you've been high school, you've got your outfits for concerts, like four nights a week. And then, you've got some sweats and jeans in your closet and there's not much in between.

NEARY: And I wonder if people were, sort of, getting distracted from the music, working at the orchestra in their real clothes.

Mr. STEIN: Yeah. They lost a lot of their authority, I think. They lost a lot of their - you know, when you see people in their tuxes and gowns, you kind of assume that they're, you know, some kind of European upper class citizen who know classical music. And when they're reduced to their Hawaiian shirts, they just look like van geek.

NEARY: So you, Joel Stein, decide they need a makeover.

Mr. STEIN: Part of the charity work. It's what I do, luckily.

NEARY: How did you go about doing this? How did you get this started anyway?

Mr. STEIN: I know a guy who used to be a stylist, who now provides gift lounges, and gift bags for big events. And so he, kind of - so I put him in charge and he took over.

NEARY: All right. Well, was there any resistance on the part of the members of the orchestra?

Mr. STEIN: Yeah. I didn't get all my first choices. There are a couple of the really worst dressers who didn't want to play along.

NEARY: Who were just insulted…

(Soundbite of laughter)

NEARY: …I guess.

Mr. STEIN: And then (unintelligible).

NEARY: Well, how did you select the musicians? How did you go about figuring out who you wanted to make over?

Mr. STEIN: Well, all the people I've seen with the worse outfits were my first choices. And we did get one of those, and other ones wouldn't agree. They were too embarrassed. So we got some - some people who were bad dressers but not as bad as the ones that some of them I thought. (Unintelligible) They'll see these clothing outfits we got them.

NEARY: Were they insulted? I mean, did they get mad when you said we think you're really a bad dresser, I want to give you a makeover, or…

Mr. STEIN: No. They - I didn't ask them directly. I got someone else to, because I'm a wimp. But they seemed to handle it pretty well. They just didn't want all the attention.

NEARY: All right. And what was the process like? How did you start this whole process once you had selected the musicians?

Mr. STEIN: They come to a store called M. Frederick(ph). That was in the (unintelligible) within the valley. They have a couple in Southern California. And we asked them to come up on what they're planning on wearing at Friday, and then we try to get things that they feel comfortable in but looked better in.

NEARY: All right. Well, we have one of the lucky musicians who was chosen to receive a fashion makeover. He's going to join us now. David Allen Moore with the L.A. Philharmonic and an adjunct assistant professor of music at USC, and he joins us from our bureau in Culver City, California. Welcome, David.

Mr. DAVID ALLEN MOORE (Bassist, L.A. Philharmonic; Adjunct Assistant Professor, USC Thornton School of Music): Hello.

NEARY: Well, what kind of - what kind of clothes do the members of the orchestra usually wear on casual Friday? Is it really as bad as Joel was telling us?

Mr. MOORE: I don't know. I think it's - everyone's very cleanly inappropriately dressed - maybe not very fashion forward, but it's definitely not unsightly.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. MOORE: That's the best way I can characterize it.

NEARY: Were you surprised when Joel approached you?

Mr. MOORE: Yeah. I just - you know, usually, we're so focused on the task at hand. It's kind of nice, actually, to be in the kind of position where you don't have to think about what you're wearing that normally just wear, you know, tails or a suit or something like that. And you can put 100 percent of your attention on kind of the task at hand and the performance. But, you know, I'm a pretty good sport, so I didn't take it in the wrong way, I hope, and I agreed to participate.

NEARY: Now David, what instruments do you play?

Mr. MOORE: Double bass.

NEARY: You play double bass. So are there any kind of clothes in particular that you wanted to wear that would make you feel comfortable while you're playing the instrument, or…

Mr. MOORE: Yeah, that's a big consideration, like, I always relish the opportunity to avoid having to wear a tails coat or a jacket just because it's restricting the - you know, playing bass is fairly physical, and so if I'm given the opportunity just to wear a button-down shirt and some jeans, I'm all for that.

NEARY: And I understand that you recently lost a lot of weight and that that affected the way you were dressing on casual Fridays?

Mr. MOORE: Somewhat. I mean, it's just - I had to cinch my pants off because I haven't quite gotten to the point where I'm ready to commit to buying new clothes. But I don't think it was terribly obvious to most people that I had lost any weight.

BRAND: Now, Joel, why did you pick David here?

Mr. STEIN: David's not a bad dresser, I mean, in my opinion, except for the footwear issues when he was wearing those…

Mr. MOORE: He had issues with my footwear.

Mr. STEIN: Yeah.

NEARY: What was the footwear you had issues with?

Mr. MOORE: I take some - I mean, unfortunately, I take some of my fashion cues - well, not unfortunately - but I take some of my fashion cues from my three-year-old, and so we do have matching Crocs and things like that that we will wear.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. STEIN: David wears socks underneath it, which I thought was bold.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. STEIN: And also everything seemed a little loose on him, because he just lost all that weight…

Mr. MOORE: Yeah.

NEARY: All right.

Mr. MOORE: Now there is that…

NEARY: All right. Well, we're going to get into how this makeover took place. But I just want to remind people, if you want to join the conversation, the number is 800-989-8255. That's 800-989-TALK.

And just quickly before we take a call, David, what was it like to have a stylist telling you what you should wear and what you shouldn't wear? Was it hard to let go of your old clothes?

Mr. MOORE: No. I mean, I definitely tried to be open-minded. I mean, he did - he brought out a few things where I said, oh, that was great. I've got something just like that at home. And he immediately turned around and put those back on the rack because I think the idea was to try and maybe give me some options that I wouldn't choose on my own.

But there were definitely some things that maybe would be considered fashionable but I was not either comfortable wearing on stage or thought that I'd be comfortable playing in.

NEARY: Was it…

Mr. STEIN: And how are the tight jeans going for you?

Mr. MOORE: I'm still a little numb, but it was okay.

(Soundbite of laughter)

NEARY: All right. We're going to see if we can get some calls in here. David from Sacramento, California is on the line. David, go ahead.

DAVID (Caller): Hi. I am in a symphony orchestra in Sacramento, the Sacramento Philharmonic. And I'm just fascinated by this discussion because I think we're in an age now where we've got to - I mean, audiences for classical music are way down and young people coming out to hear us.

You know, that's all way down, so I'm trying to encourage our organization to look at playing on some celebrity and playing on some fashion and some of the things that actually draw in a younger crowd.

They - like it or not, were just - we're in a very visual world now, and, you know, the sports guy's got all this cool gear and all this fashion stuff, but the symphony orchestras are, you know, still turn-of-the-century stuff, so…

NEARY: Well, then, that's curious. You're bringing up - it's interesting -you're bringing up an interesting point, David. Let's start with you and - is - we're talking about the fact that on - that the L.A. Philharmonic tried to do this instituting casual Friday, but maybe it backfired because the clothes weren't fashionable enough?

I mean, do you think if you do something like this that you've got to get the musicians to dress in a specific kind of way that's kind of hip or what?

DAVID: Well, I just think you should play a bit more on logo and - I mean Nike's masters of this - Tiger Woods, the whole - I don't know, I'm kind of thinking more along those lines.

I'm getting contacts with the musicians is great, but I guess I wonder what your fashion guy thinks about the idea of essentially marketing the orchestra. And maybe that's a little off topic but…

NEARY: I think it's also the part of it. Joel, what do you think? I don't know if he is the fashion guy or he brought in the fashion guys, but it's an interesting point. What do you think, Joel?

Mr. STEIN: I like the idea. We get some Dolce and Gabbana involved in this. We get some Gucci. We brand the whole orchestra. I think he's thinking right.

NEARY: Now, are you being serious, Joel, or are you making fun of this? I'm trying to figure it out.

Mr. STEIN: No, I'm not sure myself.

(Soundbite of laughter)

NEARY: Okay, David. What do you think about it, David - David Allan Moore?

Mr. MOORE: You know, honestly, as long as the concert and the music and the artistic presentation is at the center of what we're doing, I'm very open to kind of exploring different ways to present that I think our organization is kind of positioned itself in a way to kind of be at the forefront of new ways of exploring those kind of things. But as soon as it distracts from the music, I think, then that becomes an issue.

NEARY: All right. Thanks for your call, David.

DAVID: Thank you.

NEARY: Okay. We're going to go now to…

Mr. STEIN: (unintelligible) in front of a giant bass, so it doesn't much matter to him. It's a violinist who we're probably more concerned.

(Soundbite of laughter)

NEARY: Okay. Let's go to Robert from Oakland, California. Hi, Robert.

ROBERT (Caller): Hi. As a former high school trombonist, I know that all - all those brass players were a little bit cruder than the woodwinds, and I'm wondering if you noticed a difference in the capacity to be stylish in different sections of the orchestra. Were the percussionists different than the strings or - I just wondered what you noticed, and I'll take my answer off the air.

NEARY: All right. Thanks, Robert. Joel?

Mr. STEIN: Oh, you got to ask David. That - he knows these people.

NEARY: Yeah, but then he's got to betray his friends.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. MOORE: Like I said…

NEARY: He's got to play with them, too.

Mr. MOORE: …it's generally kind of a business casual atmosphere. I think that maybe one of the differences in the casual Fridays - people aren't viewing it as, like, casual performance clothes. I think it's more - people are thinking of what do they wear normally, you know, maybe a little bit dressed up.

But just to kind of take the intimidation factor away of, you know, for people that aren't used to coming to concerts and seeing a hundred plus people out there in tails and evening gowns, something like that.

NEARY: All right. Let me just remind listeners that you are listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

All right, let's take another call now from Thomas…

Mr. STEIN: I think that was smart to remind them at this point.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. STEIN: You should remind them a couple more times probably.

NEARY: Okay, I will. Thomas from Odessa, Texas. Hi, Thomas.

THOMAS (Caller): Hello. How are you?

NEARY: I'm good. How are you?

THOMAS: I'm doing very well. I just wanted to call and comment. I was an apprentice at the Santa Fe Opera, and I worked as orchestra/production services, and I got to work very closely with the orchestra. And I do know from experience that they can be some of the worst dressed people in the world.

NEARY: Like what? Can you give us some examples of people you saw?

THOMAS: Oh, oh, you know, Chacos with socks. They've got Bermuda shorts with long sleeves - all kinds of different things. I mean, you just see awful combinations.

But one thing I did want to ask is they also seem to be sometimes challenged on - as far as formal wear goes, not knowing, you know, tuxedos have to have ties and certain things like that. And plus, the tuxedos nowadays are just so drab, it seems like they need to have a total remake there and then.

NEARY: Oh, are you a musician yourself, Thomas, or…

THOMAS: Yes, I am. I am a musician myself.

NEARY: And you consider yourself to be a good dresser, and sort of your colleagues weren't…

THOMAS: Oh, yeah, I do, I do, I do know the difference between, you know, a cravat and different things like that.

NEARY: What about you, David? Do you notice this about your fellow dressers? Is Thomas speaking the truth here? You're fellow musicians.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. MOORE: Again, the - I think, you know, one of the reasons why I went into classical music as maybe as opposed to other forms in music is there - for me, there was kind of an idealism of putting 100 percent of your energy into the music and the performance.

And, you know, also, you know, when it comes to spending money or doing something like that, I have no problem spending $200 on bass strings, but seeing how much these jeans cost and how much the shirt cost and just the general price of fashion - I always think of it in terms of what would that get me in terms of instrumental equipment before I'm thinking about how I look, so that's - that's kind of my perspective on that.

NEARY: All right. That makes total sense to me. That explains the whole thing, actually. I'm wondering how the other musicians reacted to your makeover, by the way.

Mr. MOORE: Mild mocking…

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. MOORE: …I think is probably the best way to put it. I think that…

NEARY: So they're not ready to take all the stylists (unintelligible)?

Mr. MOORE: No. I mean, everything - everyone seemed to take it in the right way for the most part. You know, I think I got more grief about the jeans than anything else except the shirt was fairly blousy, so that was kind of more of an underground event than anything else. But it was - that was probably the thing I took the most stride in about.

Mr. STEIN: How did it (unintelligible) - there was a woman there who we gave a makeover to who had, I think on the last casual Friday, even though she's like a size 2, wore her old maternity clothes.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. MOORE: She looked great. We didn't actually have any interaction, the three of us that day, but everyone looked great.

NEARY: All right. Let's see if we can get one more call in here from Karen in Rochester, New York. Hi, Karen.

KAREN (Caller): Hi.

NEARY: Go ahead.

KAREN: I am calling - I'm just catching the very end of your show. I'm the author of a book, "Stage Presence from Head to Toe: A Manual for Musicians" published by Scarecrow Press.

NEARY: Uh-huh.

KAREN: And I was - I listened to maybe the last 10 minutes of your discussion with great interest. I argue in my book that casual dressing is not a great idea in orchestras.


KAREN: Principally because it gives a visual aspect to the performance that's distracting from the music.

NEARY: Uh-huh.

KAREN: And it's - you know, when everybody's sort of trying to dress uniformly, you can stop looking at how everybody's dressed.

NEARY: They just become part of the larger orchestra. You're not thinking one person in particular, you're not focusing on one person.

KAREN: Exactly. And, you know, there's an aspect of musical performance where people get thrilled by synchronicity or a lot of people doing something in synch with each other. And a good example is a Marine drill team where that's very thrilling to people to watch a Marine drill team. They're not even doing music.

NEARY: Right.

KAREN: They're just doing something together, and they look alike. There's something very focusing about that, and when you take the visual interest off the musicians, people can focus on what they're doing together.

NEARY: All right. Thanks so much for your call, Karen. Now, there's an interesting perspective, that she wants to dress musicians but she doesn't want to dress them in a casual way.

Mr. STEIN: Can I disagree just for the fun of disagreeing?

NEARY: Absolutely. Go ahead, Joel. You've got the last word.

Mr. STEIN: That seems very Motown. It just seems like seeing everyone looking and moving the same way, I think in some ways, may kind of blur you to the human individuality of the music. If I see it's just, like, people who are kind of normal people playing music, I think I'm more impressed. You hear more individuality and differences in the instruments.

NEARY: All right, Joel Stein, thanks so much for joining us. Joel Stein is a columnist for the LA Times. We were also joined by David Allan Moore, a bassist for the LA Philharmonic and adjunct professor of music at USC.

I'm Lynn Neary. This is TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

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