The Met’s ash scatterer is dismayed by the furore

The Met’s ash scatterer is dismayed by the furore


norman lebrecht

November 01, 2016

Roger Kaiser has gone to ground. He has deleted six years of posts from his Facebook page and is not taking calls.

The Dallas opera fan is refusing to comment on his reckless act last Saturday, disrupting one opera and causing the cancellation of another. A friend says he’s really, truly sorry.

Dallas News reports:

Dallas actor Paul J. Williams, who said he communicated with Kaiser, his Facebook friend, on Monday. All Kaiser did, Williams said, was carry out a warm, loving gesture, an act of compassion made to honor a friend who loved opera. In other words, think of it as being no different than Chicago Cubs fans scattering their loved one’s ashes at Wrigley Field, which despite warnings against it, baseball fans are prone to do anyway…

Kaiser, Williams said, ‘had absolutely no intention or even thought that this would create a problem. He was doing it solely for his beloved friend. As far as I know, it was just a friend. I’ve never known Roger to be in a relationship.’



  • la Verita says:

    Yes, what a loving, thoughtful and responsible gesture — to scatter human remains into a small, interior space occupied by 100 working musicians…

  • Dominic Stafford Uglow says:

    Cremated ashes are sterile and completely harmless. Please stop peddling this confused notion that an illness could have been caught by the musicians as a result of this.

    • NYMike says:

      Harmless?? Ashes landing on precious instruments can indeed be harmful! The resulting cancellation of 1½ shows was harmful to both the MET and its audience.

      • Dominic Stafford Uglow says:

        Oh, stop being so hysterical. The man took a pinch of ashes and delicately sprinkled them into the pit. He didn’t take a biscuit tin and heap ashes in. Those instruments are submitted to more acid being walked along the streets of NY each day.

        What the man did was thoughtless. It was not medically dangerous. Nor did it have potential to damage the instruments.

      • May says:

        This is America in the year 2016. What used to be the voice of calm in a turbulent world was destroyed in the aftermath of 9/11: a hysterical nation, its sanity taken away by Homeland Security and all of the other totally unnecessary dismantling of civil liberties by the Bush administration and its epileptic spasms of pseudo-defense. That the Met should cancel performances is symptomatic of the general American tendency to go berserk instead of remaining composed, and to shout “the sky is falling” instead of taking stock of events.

        • Greg Hlatky says:

          Who’s been president since 2009? Heard tell it’s some guy named, I think, O’Brien or something like that. He had a secretary of state, Claghorn (maybe?), who’s been in the news recently. Perhaps your state-run news media can inform you sometime.

        • Una says:

          Couldn’t agree more! Sky falling in syndrome. You wouldn’t get this hysteria at Covent Garden or in London in general Wait till they have a new president next week. That in itself says it all – how a country can end up with two ridiculous candidates to choose from.

      • Anon says:

        Mike, let’s face it, instruments are far more robust than that. Most have been around for many years, with all sorts landing on them. A bit of ash is going to make no difference whatsoever. There’s nothing here harmful to the instruments (the most precious of which wouldn’t likely have been unattended in the pit anyway, if cared about), nor to human health. A bit “ewww”, possibly, depending on your view, but nothing of any consequence.

      • Una says:

        You really think he threw them ALL over the players and their instruments like people throw confetti out of a bucket all over people at a wedding? He didn’t exactly have a sack of them either!!!! It COULD have been anything, it COULD have wiped out 5,000 people but it didn’t … And how are you going to stop it? You can’t without turning the Met into a prison and trip search or close in the pit like Wagner’s in Bayreuth … The latter would also stop the ice machine and all the stage affects and a lot of the thick dust you get on stage in opera houses going into the pit.

    • La Verita says:

      Yeah, right! The orchestra members should have NO say in this matter – they should just stand there silently and allow any raving lunatic to fling cremated ashes (or whatever) down upon them and their expensive instruments!

      • Alexander says:

        What he did was certainly rather strange. I would not want to have my ashes scattered in an orchestra pit, and not would I choose to scatter somebody’s ashes there. The main thing that strikes me as odd about it is that the ashes would inevitably have been swept up or vacuumed up shortly afterwards anyway, making the scattering temporary and symbolic. Most people who choose a scattering, rather than an interment, seem to prefer a natural environment (such as a river or mountain) where the ashes will be distributed through natural processes. It was also foolish of him to fail to foresee that his actions could appear alarming to other people, especially in a city as concerned about the threat from terrorism as New York City is. However, the potential harm to musicians and instruments does seem to be rather exaggerated. While I would not choose to work in an environment where human ashes (or, more accurately, pulverised bone) had recently been deposited, the risks to both human health and musical instruments has surely been exaggerated. The orchestra pit is not a sterile environment like an operating theatre, and orchestras often perform in environments where the musicians and their instruments will be exposed to much greater risks, e.g. open-air concerts, concerts in churches or other historic buildings, recitals in people’s homes, and so on, where they risk exposure to dust, air pollution, candle smoke and/or incense, humidity, and so on. In the case of an open-air performance anything can be borne on the wind, e.g. particles of soil or sand, which is not a risk in the environment of the orchestra pit, where the ashes presumably would have remained where they were deposited. This coming weekend brass, woodwind, and percussion players will risk the possibility of wet and/or cold weather to perform at open-air ceremonies commemorating the anniversary of the end of the Great War: again, a much greater risk. In terms of human health, just walking in a park or on a beach – or, of course, a heavily polluted road – is probably more risky than sitting in an orchestra pit with a little pulverised human bone material on the floor. So, a foolish thing to do, but probably not a particularly dangerous one.

    • pooroperaman says:

      Cremated ashes are sterile and completely harmless.’

      Yeah, and so are lorries, rucksacks and fertiliser, until someone uses them to harm people.

      The stupendously lax security in evidence here means that we could easily have been reading about 2000 people wiped out by anthrax.

      Even as we speak, ISIS operatives are reading this thread with great care and excitement, and the complacency of you and those like you will be the only help they need when they decide to act.

    • pooroperaman says:

      ‘Cremated ashes are sterile and completely harmless.’

      Yeah, and so are lorries, rucksacks and fertiliser, until someone uses them to harm people.

      The stupendously lax security in evidence here means that we could easily have been reading about 2000 people wiped out by anthrax.

      Even as we speak, ISIS operatives are reading this thread with great care and excitement, and the complacency of you and those like you will be the only help they need when they decide to act.

  • Richard Gibbs says:

    An annual Ash Bash at the Met is the answer, a day when loved ones can sprinkle the ashes of recently departed opera lovers all over the orchestra pit. A delicate hooovering up before the musicians arrive for the next performance will ensure that no human ash remains to despoil their instruments.

    • Dominic Stafford Uglow says:

      From the dust man came, and to the dustbin he shall return….

    • Olassus says:

      Selig sind, die da Leid tragen,
      denn sie sollen getröstet werden.

    • Observer says:

      @Richard Gibbs – Perfect! That’s exactly the kind of creativity that the MET should be looking at to solve a problem like this. It’s such a clever solution that Peter Gelb should give you free season tickets!

  • Andy says:

    Take that little pinch of ashes and drop them into the fountain out in front of the Met why didn’t he?

  • Ken says:

    Comments as bizarre as the act..
    Hey guys, ever heard about anthrax? Bioterrorism? Wonder why every car parking under the Met gets a proctoscopic exam by a security guard laxer than the TSA agents?

  • Opera Lover says:

    Once I was attending an opera at the MET (it was a big event for me since I live far away).During intermission I decided to walk down to the pit to have a look up close. I am a prof. working musician and when I’m playing in a pit people do this all the time.

    There were 3 string players, women, chatting in the pit, so I smiled and waved to them from the lip of the pit. They glared back at me. I said “bravo – sounds wonderful!”. They stared me down icily in disgust and stomped out of the pit because I had apparently disturbed their break time conversation.

    That was the last time I ever attended a live MET opera. I was shocked, disappointed and very hurt. I repeat, I am a prof. orch. musician. I know the etiquette. These MET orch.players are the highest paid orch musicians in the US. Those 3 women were the most hostile, rude performers I have ever encountered in my life. Serious attitude.

    First of all, I don’t understand how anyone could get away with sprinkling ashes into that PIT OF VIPERS without any of them hissing back in protest. I waved & said “bravo” and they nearly bit my head off. 2ndly, maybe having ashes dumped on them is karma. They demand the highest salary in the US and then act like ***holes to their patrons. At least they did to me. Maybe next time someone will dump cold water on them and they’ll come to their senses and be polite to admiring audience members who come to see them at intermission.

    • Brothers Port says:

      I’m sorry to hear you were treated this way, but I am not at all surprised. In the process of transforming our socially maladjusted music students into audition machines, American conservatories have unfortunately dropped their courses in “how to accept compliments.”

    • William Safford says:

      My experience has been quite different. Granted, I know several members of the Met orchestra, but they’re not always in the pit when I say hello.

      Loren Glickman tells the story of, decades ago, a lady going up to the contrabassoonist and asking him what the name of his instrument is. With a thick Italian accent, he said “Stove-pipe.” She asked him to repeat it a couple times, then she asked Loren (bassoonist) for help — she had trouble understanding the answer. Loren said: “Stove-pipe.” The contra player later turned to him and said: “Good boy.” (Story is from memory; I hope I got the details right.)

      Well, the good news about this, um, dustup is that nobody was hurt. Ashes to ashes, as they say….

  • Robert Holmén says:

    Human ashes can be anything from gravel to sand to powder in consistency. Would you drop any of those on a musical instrument?

    Hard to believe there are still people who don’t know that spreading an unidentified powder in a public place might not be well-received, but I guess there are.

    He’s fortunate he’s white. He will be let off easy. Can you imagine the panic and police reaction if a darker or middle-easterny person had done this?

    • Alexander says:

      As far as it has been reported, it seems that some ash fell on the timpani and on the conductor’s podium. I doubt that either was harmed. The gravelly form of ash could have damaged the varnish of stringed instruments if thrown with enough force. Of course, it was a foolish thing to do, but people do seem to be exaggerating the possible consequences.

      • Kate says:

        As a professional Timpanist I would have to disagree. Ash, powder and grit will get into the mechanism and under the counter hoop of most drums and cause them to seize up. They would need to be completely overhauled to make sure they are still in good working order. That is costly and can involve getting new heads for the drums involved. Not a laughing matter.

  • Ken says:

    As I have friends in the orchestra, and attend about once a month, every few concerts I walk to the pit before the opera starts, or during intermission. Often my friends are not visible, and I ask an orchestral member whom I don’t know if they are available, and if not, please send my regards, and usually a well deserved “Bravi” or “Bravissimi.” In almost 30 years of salutations, I, and occasionally a friend with me, have ALWAYS been greeted politely, and often delightedly, by musicians whom I have never met. Sorry for the abuse mentioned above, but my experience indicates it is a very rare occurrence.

  • Nick says:

    Why don’t correspondents realise that only a couple of people – as far as I know – were aware of the content of that sachet? In this age of bio- and all other forms of terrorism, trying to excuse this dreadfully selfish act by saying they were just human ashes totally misses the point. It COULD have been anything and it COULD have wiped out up to 5,000 people in the auditorium, the pit, the stage and the rest of the House. That is the point and it is the ONLY point here.

  • Save the MET says:

    There is no defense for this idiots action.