Blair Tindall, Whose Music Memoir Scandalized, Dies at 63

Blair Tindall, a freelance oboist and journalist who drew on both of those abilities to write “Mozart in the Jungle: Sex, Drugs, and Classical Music,” an eyebrow-raising 2005 memoir that became an award-winning television series, died on April 12 in Los Angeles. She was 63.

Her fiancé, the photographer Chris Sattlberger, said the cause was cardiovascular disease.

Ms. Tindall had played in various ensembles and Broadway pit orchestras and was writing regularly for publications including The New York Times when “Mozart in the Jungle” appeared. Any reader holding a pristine view of the people who make classical music was quickly relieved of it: The book opens with Ms. Tindall’s visit to a cocaine-fueled party of musicians and goes on to detail assorted escapades, among them her own sexual liaisons, including an early one, with a middle-aged instructor, when she was a teenager studying at the North Carolina School of the Arts.

“I got hired for most of my gigs in bed,” she wrote.

The book set tongues wagging in the classical music world and divided critics.

“Written with pop culture-savvy flair — a feat for a musician who, at one point, admits to being ‘proud that I couldn’t identify a pop song from Beatles to Blondie’ — ‘Mozart’ is a delightfully unlikely page-turner,” Ali Marshall wrote in Mountain Xpress, an alternative newspaper in North Carolina. “And, even if it doesn’t encourage readers to listen to classical music, it’s sure to instill in them an unprecedented admiration of this deviant art.”

But the music writer Anne Midgette, in The New York Times, was not impressed.

“The book’s biggest weakness is that it smacks of sour grapes,” she wrote. “By writing it as an autobiography, Ms. Tindall seems to be saying that everything that went wrong in her life is the fault of the classical music world.”

In interviews after the book came out, Ms. Tindall was unapologetic about the salacious parts.

“I did notice when I became involved in a relationship with someone in the business that my work picked up,” she told The Daily Telegraph of Britain in 2005. “You need all the friends you can get. The music world is very incestuous.”

Speaking with The Daily News of New York the same year, she was matter-of-fact.

“People always seem shocked that musicians would have sex,” she said. “I mean, where do little musicians come from?”

The sensational content drew much of the attention, but Ms. Tindall said she was making serious points in the book about dysfunction in the classical-music world — pay inequities that had a few star conductors and musicians making big money while musicians like her scraped by, for instance, and music schools that built up false hopes among students.

“If you take all the major orchestras in America together, there are jobs for only 100 full-time oboists,” she told The Daily Telegraph in 2005. “Yet there are 300 union oboists in the New York area alone.”

And the wild times she chronicled, she said, weren’t quite the same as the better-known excesses of rock ’n’ roll.

“Sex and drugs are a show of exuberance in rock,” she said. “In the world of classical music, they are more of an escape from a sense of confinement and depression.”

She also told The Daily Telegraph that she hoped the book might interest someone in Hollywood. But she said she wasn’t optimistic: No actress would want to play her, since drawing music from an oboe requires puffed-out cheeks and leaves the musician bug-eyed.

“Unfortunately, nobody looks good playing the oboe,” she said.

Yet nine years later, she got her wish: Amazon, still relatively new to the business of making television shows, used “Mozart in the Jungle” as the basis for a series of the same name that premiered in 2014 and ran for four seasons. Lola Kirke played a young oboist, Gael García Bernal was the sexy conductor of a New York orchestra, and the show became a talking point for musicians everywhere. It also won the Golden Globe in 2016 for best television series, comedy or musical.

Blair Alston Mercer Tindall was born on Feb. 2, 1960, in Chapel Hill, N.C. Her father, George, was a noted historian who taught at the University of North Carolina, and her mother, Carliss Blossom (McGarrity) Tindall, had a master’s degree and assisted her husband in his research.

Her parents made her study piano when she was young, though she wasn’t overly enthusiastic about the instrument. One day, she recalled in her book, someone from a music store brought instruments to her elementary school, and the band teacher allowed each student to choose one, going alphabetically.

“By the time he got to Tindall, my options had narrowed to two unfamiliar instruments, oboe and bassoon,” she wrote. She chose the oboe.

As she grew increasingly proficient on the instrument, she realized it had its advantages.

“Composers wrote juicy solos for oboes that sent band directors into ecstasy,” she wrote, and she got excused from class for assorted band competitions and tours.

After finishing high school at the School of the Arts in 1978, Ms. Tindall earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees at the Manhattan School of Music. She played in the pit orchestras of “Miss Saigon” and “Les Misérables” and performed with the ensembles Orpheus and Music Amici, the all-oboe trio Oboe Fusion and various orchestras. In 1991, at Weill Recital Hall in Manhattan, she played “a clever, stylistically varied debut program,” as Allan Kozinn put it in a review in The Times.

In 1999 Ms. Tindall, who was becoming disenchanted with the musician’s life, received a fellowship to study journalism at Stanford and relocated to the West Coast. She earned a master’s degree in journalism there and worked for several West Coast newspapers, including The Contra Costa Times and The San Francisco Examiner.

In 2006, newspapers reported that Ms. Tindall had married Bill Nye, TV’s “Science Guy,” though seven weeks later the license was declared invalid and the union dissolved.

Mr. Sattlberger said he and Ms. Tindall had planned to marry on May 1. She leaves no other survivors.

Ms. Tindall wrote for numerous publications on a variety of subjects. Her articles for The Times were most often about music.

When Broadway musicians went on strike in March 2003 over the efforts of producers to reduce the number of musicians required at shows and replace them with digital music, Ms. Tindall wrote in an essay for The Times about her final night in the pit of “Man of La Mancha” before the walkout.

“This night, the music responded to the actors — and the audience,” she wrote. “If virtual orchestras take over, it will be mechanical and unyielding — measured by keyboard velocity, musical software interfaces, and the zeros and ones of digital musical samples.

“We looked around the pit, grabbed our instruments, and shut out the lights.”

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