Friday, November 27, 2009

Is there actually an answer?

Before this semester started, I wondered if this class would uncover an answer as to what the actual future of classical music is. Since about halfway through Hewett's book, I have been waiting to find out what his prediction is. He ends his book with the following:

"The essential fact about music, which is that it dies, and has to die in order for it to glorify this present moment happening now, is systematically denied in our passive musical culture, just as mortality is denied. The result is precisely the lack of emotional intensity that Jung observed in contemporary life, and which we can observe in those forms of music most symptomatic of the present day. Restoring that intensity is something we crave, but we never think that its lack may be partly in ourselves, and with the way we relate to music. Instead we instinctively delegate. In pop music and world music, we always look for performers with that mysterious daemon, and in art music we look for composers with some special 'vision' that will seize us like a revelation. But perhaps we've delegated for too long. Perhaps it's time to look to ourselves."

I think he makes some interesting points, first being that there really is no answer. If there were a clear cut solution, an absolute future for classical music, there wouldn't be a need for these books or for this class. The truth is no one really knows. It is virtually impossible to predict what will succeed and what will fail. Do we ever really understand why certain products become a phenomenon?

Also, the idea of delegation is a very real one. It is far too rare that people today want to take the reigns responsibility. A fair amount just want to tag along for the ride. It makes me think of a choral situation. When sight reading music or cutting off at the end of the phrase, it doesn't work if some singers wait for their neighbor to do the work. It is audible when someone poops out early and doesn't sing through the end of the phrase cutting off with confidence. I think this is what Hewett is saying about our future. We have to all be leaders rather than followers. Classical music isn't going to regain its popularity on its own. It isn't going to step out form behind the mask of violent movie scenes and images of decadent chocolates unless we do something about it. What it is we are supposed to do is not clear, but something is better than nothing.

Musicians have to have perseverance in order to be successful. We push ourselves and do all we can to fight for our spot within an expanding pool of people reaching for something that is diminishing. Are we being selfish? Should our efforts be focused on the greater good versus our personal career? Can we fully commit to both?
The more I think about all of this the more circles I find myself running in. Does anyone else feel the same way?

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

'Expression makes comeback.’

When Classical period music compares with Romantic period music, it is obvious that it is sensation, and really new. And, it seems that the new genre was very welcome to people. My feeling to modern music is not always comfortable, comparing to that period’s people. I was curious of it, and come to think maybe that is the environment that supported the new music, which is the modern music to that time. After classical music time or already in, people became interested in nature, beauty, and enjoyment for human. I think maybe those phenomenon made people open mind to and understood very well about new music. So, I think what is issue to and surrounds me today could be related to my future favorite contemporary music. It also could be proved that people come back to the traditional structure as in the book. I don’t mean completely it goes back to original point. Just we need some connection to lead to or lift up the new genre, as the sensational invention has been really not too much sensational.

small, but vital audiences for contemporary classical music

This week, I'd like to respond to the following blog. I found the link for this blog when I was looking through Alex Ross's external links on his blog. This one was listed in the music business section, but I found it quite relevant not only to the future of classical music, but also specifically to our reading this week from "Music, healing the rift." Here's the link to the blog:

Greg Sandow, as I learned from his blog, is a music critic and a professor at Julliard. The title of the article I read on his blog is, "Left behind (3)." And, as he describes, the article can be described as: "Finishing my impulsive three-part series on how/why contemporary classical music -- as presented by mainstream classical music institutions -- isn't really part of current culture." I haven't had a chance to yet read the other 2 sections of this series, but he summarizes pretty clearly here what arenas he discussed before this third installment. 

Sandow compares the reception of contemporary visual art to that of contemporary music to demonstrate how much less receptive the general audience is still to new music vs. new art. For instance, he discusses how because contemporary classical music is still seen as "an oddball" branch of classical music, the general perception of what contemporary music embodies is somewhat out-dated. As he writes, "atonal music dominated prestigious composition in the 1950s, and still retains -- in the classical music world -- its dominant prestige, along with a sense of somehow still being new, even though since its dominance we've had waves of new styles, starting with minimalism in the 1970." This idea is not so far off from the thought question we had for chapter 7 in Hewett this week regarding modernist vs. neo-tonal music.

I found this imagery enlightening: the draw a museum like the MOMA can fetch for a general audience, with museum-goers lined about around the block to see a Jackson Pollack exhibition in comparison to a tiny audience for a contemporary music concert. As he writes, in the "excuses" section there are reasons for contemporary classical music to have less of an appeal then modern art, for instance, music takes time, it doesn't reflect the current times happening around it, etc. BUT, in his solutions section, his attention to the significance of "small, but vital audiences," in attendance at a classical contemporary music concert was refreshing for me and opened up some new thoughts about new classical music appeal. Perhaps classical music producers are far to concerned about appealing to a mass audience and thus over-sex the appeal of new music, or they program what people still think of as new music, or atonal as Sandow presents earlier. He argues that we need to present music to represents the current times and culture, and also to work with the perhaps small, but genuinely infatuated audience that does show up for a concert of new music. 

Monday, November 16, 2009


One of the ideas in chapter 6 of Music: Healing the Rift that I found interesting was the discussion on expression in new music. In particular, the ideas were based around the idea of either intentionally avoiding any expressive qualities in the music, or having oblique expression in the music.

I find these ideas interesting since, as a composer, these are issues with which I have to struggle in every piece. Expression in my music is a rather strange thing, and I don't always have an answer as to the role of expression in my music. Frankly, I believe that Stravinsky was right when he said that music is incapable of expressing anything at all; it is in fact the person perceiving the music who is feeling--music is simply the mirror from which those feelings are reflected. However, I realize that a person perceiving music is always going to have an emotional reaction to music, whether or not I intend one in my music, and so a strange conflict arises between the creative intention and the perceived intention.

I found recently in a piece I wrote for solo violin that this issue of expression became much more important to the way I write than is usual. When writing a piece, one is faced with the challenge of being a creator with an intention, but one also is faced with the role of the perceiver who is looking into the musical mirror and can't help but have a reaction. It was this conflict of roles that I found to be the greatest challenge in writing the piece; how to balance my ideas with my reactions to the actualizations of my ideas. In past pieces, this wasn't as much of an issue, simply because I was battling with other challenges of things like notation, clearly presenting ideas, etc. But in this piece, since the music materials were not as difficult and in some ways were more traditional, this conflict in roles came to the foreground.

To be honest, I am not entirely sure that there are any conclusions to draw based upon the experiences I had in writing this piece. The piece in many ways challenged the way in which I work, and I believe my work on this piece actually has presented me a situation with which I am going to be faced more intensely in the future. I have the sense the struggle of identity in the compositional process is going to be a prolonged problem of mine.

I know I haven't written much on what HTR had to say on these issues; however, I decided to write on this because I believe the text actually helped me articulate some of the difficulties I was having in this last piece, and I just thought I'd share this new development of mine since it found resonance with the readings.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Mingling of cultures, and new genre.

I remember Platon said creating is a sort of thing to imitate another. When we think the world that changes and improves, it moves little by little. I think it means the next item is developed, copied, and modified from the formal item. For example, there is Mozart. Mozart himself is a great musician, but we also know his father made him traveled and experienced many countries and music, so he could create and applied the music into his own music, and recreated it. Another example could be found in other musicians, whose music has folk characteristic such as Grieg, Debussy or Chopin. With using the new resource, the music can be distinguished from other traditional style.

I examplfied just in classical music, but it is the same in any genre.
The idea of ‘breaking down barriers’ (p68) When someone tries something new first time, it could be not acceptable, but if it is tried and reshaped over and over, I think we would have another valuable thing. There was not Jazz, kabuki, musical or movie sound track in the past, but we have these now.

Monday, November 9, 2009

What it takes to get in

It is said that classical music is inaccessible to low-income citizens based on concert ticket pricing, but what is said about its accessibility to study it?

Here you will find information on what is needed to get into some well known institutions (I am using piano majors to unify this example)

New England Conservatory:

Eastman School of Music:

Oberlin Conservatory:

To sum it up, you need to have certain skills before these colleges take a second look at your application. Most people aren't born with these skills, and therefore have to learn them from a teacher. With years and years of study, one can get these skills.

Lets look at how much this education could cost. 5 years, $30 a lesson, one lesson a week. With 52 weeks in a year, that comes to $7,800. Now imagine if I used a number that actually approximates the actual price of a lesson.

It is simply not possible for a person interested, but not educated in music, to decide to attend music school half way through senior year of high school. You need years worth of skills and the money to pay for them. A public school student with good grades and various math / science courses under his/her belt has a fair shot at engineering school. The math / science courses needed to get into engineering school are provided by the public school, the music education is not.

We, the lucky ones, owe so much to our parents. They gave us the option to choose music school. Unfortunately, not all parents posses the resources needed to provide such options.

At the very least, early education must provide every student the option to move on to higher education, in all fields, free of preliminary costs. Hard work is the only thing it should take to get in.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

new classical music concert - appealing to a wider audience

This week, I would like to respond to a concert review I read in the New York Times. Firstly, the title of the article, "Creative Confections for Woodwinds and Strings," grabbed my attention. Indeed, as I learned from the review, this concert aimed to attract their audience via a catchy title, or fun party-favors, and then presenting them with intriguing, new music. For instance, the title of the concert was, “m&m’s: microtones & minimalism," and, "concert-goers received "martini glasses filled with complimentary M&M candies." Also, as reviewed in the article, "Flyers and announcements hawked the “American Modern-tini,” a custom-made concoction." The logic behind attracting an audience with fun, rather than telling them the basic facts of what they were to hear on the concert is an interesting form of marketing. I could see some classical music critics finding this method too directed to mass-appeal, and questioning why they couldn't simply market the concert for what is was: contemporary classical music. However, I think the American Modern Ensemble, the group behind this performance, were wise to present their concert as more of a party than a contemporary music concert.

I attended a student recital last spring where a friend of mine served the reception before and during the performance, instead of after the concert. While this broke some boundaries in terms of the standard concert template, with the reception as a reward for sitting through the concert, I thought it was an ingenious way to insure the audience enjoyed themselves, and hopefully would spark more new classical music fans. I know everyone left that recital feeling excited that they had been a part of such a great performance, and a welcoming atmosphere. The idea behind the American Modern Ensemble's Party/Concert encourages the same warm feelings. Too often people view classical music concerts as only open to the select few, and that someone who has not been exposed to this genre before would not understand or even know how to listen to a concert. As we've discussed in our class, this is a shame, but sadly it has been the standard for years. By turning concerts into something more approachable, hopefully more new audience members will be attracted to attending. Also, the venue the Ensemble used for this concert, as described in the article: "Galapagos, a brut-chic performing-arts space where communal tables rest on metal platforms that jut out amid reflecting pools," was an exciting venue for classical music to be heard. It also continued their theme of breaking down the boundaries between genres of music.

The repertoire presented on the concert by the American Modern Ensemble span the years 1968-2007, and offered a wide range of instrumentation. This also helped in keeping the audience's interest, for if nothing else, they could enjoy watching the varied techniques suited to each instrument. I wish I could have attended this concert to get a feeling for how this presentation of new classical music was received. They had the right ingredients to make this concert as enjoyable as possible, so I hope new audience members agreed with enthusiasm and that they will attend future performances by this ensemble and other classical music groups.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

"Music Makes Winners"

I very much enjoyed having Dean Chin come to speak in our class this week. I feel like he touched on a great deal of things we have been talking about all semester. He also made me think about my musical past. Dean Chin and I actually graduated from the same high school, Norwood High. He mentioned the phrase "Music Makes Winners" and his distaste for it. This was one mantra of our music program. While I am not sure it was enforced or used as colloquially during my time at the high school, I do remember hearing it on occasion, and seeing it on pins sold at marching band competitions. I actually tried to look for some old paraphernalia or articles with the saying included, but came up empty handed.

Despite not hearing the phrase consistently, this was definitely an underlying part of the mentality of the entire music program. We were constantly encouraged to strive for the gold. There was a trophy case spanning the entire length of the hallway outside of the auditorium proudly displaying the multitude of medals won by various music groups over the years. It was virtually unheard of to not come home with a first place win. I will never forget one instance of this. It was my junior year in high school, and I was a part of the Madrigal Choir. We were not off to the strongest start, and at one point Paul Alberta (the Director of Fine Arts at the time, whom we all referred to as "God") came to one of our rehearsals. He bet us all a nickel that we would not received a gold medal at our MICCA competition. This of course affected us all in a big way. We went on to improve as a choir, and to win the gold medal in spite of Mr. Alberta's prediction. Following the win, he came into our rehearsal and gave us all a nickel. I still have mine in a frame in my room.

Another recollection from that same year was our trip to compete in Washington DC. We sang the best we could, and did not even place in the top 10 choirs in the Festival of Gold. Every one of us was extremely disappointed, including the director. It tainted the entire trip, and I remember hearing "Let's just get the hell out of here" from many, again, including the director.

Another question Dean Chin brought up was "Why are we musicians?" Do we do it do win? Maybe some people do. For some it's the prizes, the competition titles, and the fame. Others, including myself, fall in the "range of successful outcomes" volume. I believe that the majority of people fall under this category. Are there really enough prizes and first place wins for all the musicians in this world to have one? I doubt that. So why then push the younger generations on winning? Honestly, I was never one who cared about a score or a placement. I cared more about feeling good leaving the stage and knowing that we did all we could to be great. I try to encourage that way of thinking with the kids I teach now, though I am not sure they really get it quite yet. I think Dean Chin is right to be bothered by the "Music Makes Winners" slogan. Not all musicians will win, but that doesn't mean that they aren't musicians. It doesn't mean they aren't successful. Having a reminder of this in class was reassuring. Thank you for that.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Conductorless, Self-conducted, Unconducted

In many respects, the concept of an unconducted chamber orchestra or unconducted large ensemble playing has been a given in my concept of music education. Doing unconducted projects in conservatory was something I just assumed was part of any solid musical training, especially for string players. I also had been to several chamber orchestra concerts that were performed unconducted - a performamce of the Academy of St. Martin in the Fields on tour in Baltimore was perhaps one of my most memorable and profound concert experiences. I was a little surprised therefore in our last class discussion that the concept of an unconducted chamber orchestra was understood to be unique to Orpheus in New York City. I decided to look into unconducted chamber orchestras and find out if Orpheus was indeed the first such orchestra.

Orpheus indeed was not the first. In 1922 the Pervyi Simfonicheskii Ansambl' - First Symphonic Ensemble) was formed in the USSR ( The founding of this orchestra was more political than artistic in nature, and it did not survive past 10 years. In 1951 the Prague Chamber Orchestra was formed. ( The idea has flourished since, and now many self-governed orchestras can be found from Orpheus in New York City to the Australian Chamber Orchestra in Sydney. Some establish leadership in a democrtatic way, as Orpheus does, and others rely on the artistic direction of the concert master. But the unifying component is the idea of chamber music interaction in large ensemble form.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Zander's pursuit

Maestro Zander is known as a top-rate conductor, and he should be just as known for his public speaking. His presentation on ( would be one of his latest examples.

He is invited to talk on to share his love for classical music, but more so, his conviction that everyone has an untapped love for it. He sits at the piano and plays Chopin's most famous prelude (No.4), deconstructs it in layman's terms, and plays it again. He urges everyone in the audience to listen while imagining a dear friend or family member that has passed away. He asks this of the audience to ensure that everyone take part in a similar experience.

If he would have asked them to focus on the aesthetics or technique, only a few would be able to truly appreciate the piece. Instead he asked us to imagine something dear to us, enabling us to give the piece our own meaning.

Some would argue that restricting listening to accepted music listening styles hinders the audience by stifling their imagination. While this can be true to a certain extent, it also provides guidance to some, simplifying this seemingly complicated music into a simple memory trigger.

Zander reduced Chopin's prelude to a nostalgic piece that everyone can relate to. He was able to captivate the 1,600 people in the does it matter?

Only a big name can fill seats at the BSO...

In response to Megan's comment on my recent blog entry about the developments with the BSO and its conductor situation - I agree that bringing in the "big names" in conducting has been what helped to fill the seats at Symphony Hall. With another delay in Levine's return, they have had to try to keep people coming to concerts somehow. There is no doubt in my mind that bringing Lorin Maazel in was what finally sold out the Beethoven series.

What doesn't help fill seats, however, is when assistant conductors do not impress the already dismissive audience, as seen in this recent Boston Globe article critiquing Julian Kuerti's interpretation of Beethoven's 4th and 5th Symphonies.

NYTimes Article On Audience Participation

Hey everyone,

I came across this article in the NYTimes, and I thought that it would of interest to all of you. Basically why I brought it up is because I think it fits nicely into some of the ideas we have discussed in class, particularly around the idea of a passive or active audience.

Also, I would point out another item of interest within the article: the acceptance and enjoyment of unfamiliar sounds.

"Don't screw it up!"

I have a cartoon that a player constantly keep reminding himself “ Don’t screw it up!!”
It’s the same idea as “ Don’t think of an elephant!” because it means that it is already thinking of elephant. There is still the same object, “ elephant”. One of what I learned in school is that learning music includes even playing on stage. Even if the music is well practiced, but different from playing in practice, that could be nothing. In the first piano seminar in this semester, the guest lecturer said how to prepare for playing on stage.

Record it
Play for friends or teachers
Play as possible as you can for audiences if there is any chance for public or in school.

I remember when I’ve sat in front seat in Symphony Hall once, how nervous the cellist was, but once the orchestra began, he seemed naturally to get into the music, and get comfortable. It’s so impressed to me. I know that musician should be like that, and only when a player is doing so, one’s real music can be presented. I hope what to play in my head naturally without any concerning or worry about performance on the streets, in the train and in the practice room is played on stage anytime in the same way.