Tuesday, December 4, 2012

A belated follow-up on Titles

I decided to go through the blog and re-read some of the posts I missed the first time through, and Kaley's post about titles reminded me of this article by David Rakowski (professor of composition at Brandeis):

The Title Pool

I think it does a great job of examining the history of titling in classical music, while summing up many of the concerns that arise when deciding on titles. For the record, I often use punning titles for my work, or titles with multiple meanings. I think it sends the message that I don't take myself too seriously and I have a sense of humor about my work, which is important to the way I think about music. My favorite title I came up with was "Brazen Overtures" for a brass quintet.

Also, here's to continuing to use this blog as a place for music discussion. I'll definitely be checking it every so often and I hope y'all do so as well!

That's all, folks

In this last blog post, I'd like to firstly thank everyone who contributed towards making this class enjoyable and informative--namely, Isaiah and all of my fellow classmates/bloggers. I especially appreciate the mutual respect that was apparent in all of our class discussions, even when we disagreed on certain points; I always felt free to express myself, which, as a generally shy and inward person, doesn't normally happen for me. So, thank you for providing the platform upon which ideas could be expressed and contemplated.

More than anything else, this class has made me aware of how deeply personal music is for each individual--though the need for music as an expressive and communicative tool is absolutely universal, everyone approaches it in a slightly different way, and this makes it all the richer. The myriad of approaches under a single genre, Western classical music, is formidable. This, to me, is the reason why collaboration is critical to developing and extending the art--as humans, we move from dependency (as children), to independence (as adults), and hopefully to interdependence (as collaborators). The progression of music would do well to mirror this evolution, as we create increasingly rich statements.

I may be in the minority in saying that music as an intellectual pursuit is still valid and thriving; I don't see a necessity for simplicity or universality in classical music, because classical music itself is not universal (nor should it attempt to be). In fact, I see divorcing music from its "natural" (ie. communicative) function as much an art form as that of unifying it with that function is. This stance doesn't suggest that complexity is better than simplicity, simply that it has an equal amount of validity in western classical music. In my own music, I strive to combine them in equal parts according to my taste--subsequently, I don't expect universal appeal. But then, that's the beauty of music--the multiplicity of personal styles, approaches, and genres. I hope that the coming years at Longy expose me to an even wider palate, and I can't wait to see what the future has in store.

Final Post thoughts

I've been thinking especially about the accessibility of classical music over the past few days. It's a topic that comes up with a fair amount of frequency at my job, when I discuss what I do with coworkers. Recently, after inviting a coworker to a performance of opera scenes, I was met with the exclamation, "I've always wanted to see an opera!"

Though I hear this type of response often (and I was happy at her enthusiasm), this made me wonder for a moment. Even in a city like Boston, where classical performances are widely available, I know many people who feel it's inaccessible to them. Granted, a large part of the "I've always wanted to..." answers I hear are probably politeness, but nonetheless, the fact that classical music is a foreign world to many people remains.

It's a feeling I understand--until I was taught music, much of the classical world seemed overwhelming and strange to me (sometimes it still does!)

I'm not sure this is a problem that can be easily or wholly fixed in such a world of consumerist music, as Healing the Rift describes. People listen to music differently now than they did one hundred years ago, and the perception of classical music has changed in part simply because it's difficult to enjoy it in the same manner as popular music. The bigger question is: do we want the way we listen to classical music to change in the name of accessibility?

In the meantime, I'll hope my coworkers really do enjoy the opera!

Thanks, all, for a thought-provoking class.

Perceptions Changed

For a last post, I would like to reflect on what I have learned throughout this semester as a student of this class. My general perception of the modern classical musician was that they were highly specialized individuals whose career goals was to find a job as an orchestral player. If anything, this course has helped me completely change my perceptions on what modern classical musicians can do. With the influx on many styles in the 21st century, it seems that classical musicians are using this to their advantage to blend styles. I find comfort in the fact that more opportunities to perform outside of the traditional classical realm are appearing for young musicians in a time when they need it the most. I am also pleased with the fact that classical musicians are taking advantage of technological resources to spread their talent. Sources such as YouTube have far reaching effects.

One of the most important things I learned about this class, however, is how classical musicians need to work together to spread their careers. Encouraging dialogue in which pressing issues are discussed in the field, as done in this course, are gateways to spreading our talent. We also can discuss how we can make our field more accessible to the public. In addition, by communicating with each other about our field we are showing are support for one another, support that we all can rely on. Moreover, by communicating with each other, we open up to ideas of collaborating with one another.

I have learned a significant amount from this course. What I most enjoy about this course, however, is that I will continue to learn from my experiences in this class for years to come.

The Network of Musical Minds

My experience in this class has been truly memorable.  I was impressed by my creative, innovative and intelligent colleagues as well as inspired by my enthusiastic, passionate professor on a weekly basis.  I began to experience the class as a living, breathing representation of the current state of the Classical music world.  Classical music is alive today and there is passion running through its veins in the form of shared anticipation with regard to upcoming concerts, a swarm of constantly festering musical thought and most importantly a deep love for the personal behind the music. Among the many gifts that the class had to offer, the most profound was a simple reminder that although the Classical world may be a micro-cosmos, it is a world lined with honesty and integrity and filled densely with the best of each of its members.

It had been a while since I felt such a profound sense of community.  The last time I was so inspired was when I chose to go into music.  I was a high school student and on Saturdays, I was a preparatory student at Mannes, The New School for Music. In addition to lessons in piano, theory, and solfege, all students met in Senior choir at the end of the day.  Our director, Matthew Brady, was brilliantly creative and his love for music spread throughout the room like a powdered potion.  Before concerts, one of us would always speak about how much the music and the members meant.  Sometimes we said a prayer, sometimes we listened to a Tibetan singing bowl, sometimes we had moments of silence, sometimes we read poems.  The concerts were spiritual experiences for many of us.  Afterwards, we always went out to dinner to share food and memories. 

Future of Classical Music has given me the tools to form that community wherever I go for the rest of my life.  We must constantly remind ourselves that the element that makes music so powerful is the personal element.  We must make an effort to connect to that network of musical minds in order to stay on top of what's relevant, inspire each other, support each other, and perhaps most importantly play for each other.  We should all continue to write for a blog and read each others posts.  We should continue to share information about our upcoming recitals and attend those of our colleagues.  We should never become complacent; always play something new, write something new, and try something new. Perhaps . . . we could sacrifice just one hour every week from our busy schedules, to sit at a single table together, and talk about the world.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Who Needs Conductors Anyway?

An article recently appeared on npr.org's music page with a headline beggin the question "Do Orchestras Really Need Conductors?" The article, by Shankar Vedantam, reports the findings of a recent study attempting to scientifically determine the relationship between the conductors movements on the podium and the string players' bow movements. According to the article, the study concluded not only that the conductors movements predicted the movements of the players bows, but that audience members find music conducted by professionals to be more aesthetically pleasing than music conducted by amateurs.

The implication of this article is that the answer to the titular question is "yes", but the study was not aimed at answering the question at all. All the study showed is that when there is a conductor, he or she can influence how the orchestra plays, and, the former being true, that better conductors yield better musical results. To answer the question "Do Orchestras Really Need Conductors?" would require a control group. How does a professional orchestra sound without any conductor at all?

Luckily for us, some data regarding that question already exists. Groups such as the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra regularly perform without the assistance of a conductor. In addition to its Grammy Awards, the orchestra has been named to The WorldBlu List of Most Democratic Workplaces for six years running. For an orchestra the size of Orpheus (comprising 34 musicians), it is quite clear that a conductor is not necessary.

The question raised by this article is one worth examining, but to call this study scientific proof that orchestras need conductors is to ignore the definition of science. The better question would be "When does an orchestra need a conductor?" - the answer to which I doubt will present itself in numerical form."


         I came in to this class with the knowledge that passion is the most important element of my life as a musician.  What I had chosen to ignore however, was the fact that playing our instruments and perfecting our crafts is only a small part of the equation.  Our careers depend on so much more, from education to performance, from finding audiences to venues, there are so many elements that I had chosen not to think about because somewhere, I feared that facing these issues would lead to the realization that maybe classical music isn’t so relevant anymore.  But what I’ve gained from this class, and what I’ve found most inspiring, has been to discover that all of us have dreams and are looking for ways in which to make them reality.  Looking back on the first few weeks of class and our initial discussions, I feel like many of us felt uncertain about the future of classical music, and therefore of our own fates in this world.  Whether our outlooks were optimistic or defeatist, it didn’t seem as though we had much of an idea as to how to tackle the obstacles that lay ahead of us.  
Of course, I can only speak for myself when I say that I had my head buried in the sand, ignoring the very real issues that concern us all directly, and focused on my violin with the blind faith that things would somehow just work out.  But now, having gone through the process of analyzing the reasons why classical music has fallen out of popular culture, and having an understanding of the way concerts used to be performed, I feel more prepared and even more excited about my choice to be a musician.  Music, for me, has always been a means to communicate with people, and having an audience is therefore necessary for music to come alive.            I know that we haven’t found the perfect answers to our concerns, but we’ve uncovered a variety of possibilities and I see in all of us the potential and the desire to turn our ideas into realities.  I thank you all for giving me direction, a deeper understanding of what needs to be done, and showing me that passion is still the most important component of what we do.  Isaiah, I’d like to thank you for guiding us in this process, for giving us a forum on which to contribute our thoughts regularly, as well as for giving us the opportunity to benefit other musicians, musical groups and causes that we each feel passionate about through our Wikipedia articles.  

         Farewell, and cheers to the future of classical music!

Thank You

I’ve never been one for farewells. There have been few crafted farewells in my life that have been truly final, so instead of wishing everyone goodbye and good luck, I want to thank you all for a thought provoking, inspiring, crazy, and revelatory semester. From the readings to the blog posts to the class discussions, I know we will all leave this class wiser about how we want to change the face of the musical world. And, we have left an “immortal” record of our journey from which to look back and draw inspiration. We have covered so much this semester and established a strong foundation for ourselves as we begin (or in some cases continue) our careers in the world outside of the conservatory. We should make sure to stay connected and draw upon each other's strengths. Let's change the world, friends.

Isaiah, I can not think of a better or more relevant final project for this class than our Wikipedia articles. Thank you for the introduction to the musical Wikipedia world, and for pushing us to expand our views of music, of ourselves, and of our role in the world at large as musicians.

Thank you, all!

Shine on you Classical Diamonds

I truly thank everyone in this class (Isaiah included) for providing me with a thought-provoking view of Classical music and for becoming my friends. I find that the most effective way to spread an idea is through people you know so I will share all of your work with my friends. Each connection we make is a bridge to countless other connections. Let's continue to be passionate about a topic that can help to hold together our fragile world. I often think about how few people in the world sit at a table together and discuss Classical music for over an hour every week. We have definitely been doing something unique and worthwhile these past few months. I have no doubt that every one of you will continue to have these important discussions with more diverse sets of people. We are faced with a decreasing set of career options and an increasing amount of pessimism from the Classical establishment. However, I am more optimistic now than ever about the future of this music. It is through people like us that it will continue to thrive. We aren't purely interested in a 'Classical' image of ourselves. We simply want to play music that we believe is worth sharing with people that are interested. This might mean a performance at a concert hall, nursing home, maximum-security prison, dive bar, anarchist book fair, gay rights march, coffee shop, relay for life event, your grandmother's apartment, or your friend's brother's neighbor's rabbi's house. It really doesn't matter. We love Classical music and will find the right audience regardless of whether they paid a $10 admission fee or are locked up for life.

I'm supposed to say "Farewell".. to the Future?

     That's an odd thing for sure. I have no desire to say goodbye to any of you. Why should I? If we do our job and follow the intensity we've shown all semester then I'll be seeing (and hearing) many of you for years to come. Perhaps saying goodbye to the class format is appropriate, but the rest of you don't need goodbyes. If we've learned anything from this class it's that we have a lot of work to do if we're to have a successful career in a dead art. That's right I said it: Classical Music is Dead. However; I don't think that is a bad thing. If Hewitt is right then now is our time to strike.
     I believe we have a large responsibility as performers and composers to play and write new music. The 21st century is fast moving and quick to leave people behind. The ugly truth is that we must adapt to this by compromise. Compromising our ideals with what people want to hear is the only way to make it. If we are unable to compromise then we will have a hard time reaching new audiences. I feel this, above all, is the one fatal flaw in all of our training: No one in the Conservatory prepares you for the music business. However; do not blame your teachers. It's not your teachers fault. They are only teaching you the craft - not the way to success.                    
    Success does not come from our heart, our ideas or our talents. It's from the acknowledgement of them by others. This is the 21st century. Do you want to be successful while you are alive or when you are dead? No one says you can't follow what's in your heart, but what's the point of following your heart if no one wants to hear you or even know you?  Get someone's attention first then you show them what you got.

Good Luck.

I give you the end

William Blake once wrote...

"I give you the end of a golden string,
Only wind it into a ball;
It will lead you in at heaven's gate;
Build it in Jerusalem's wall."

And so, I give you the end of a golden semester. Not only have I triumphantly reached the end of 15 weeks of grueling conservatory classes, but I have now finished my first semester of graduate school. I am humbled when I look back and think of my first college class as it occurred 6 years ago. 18 year-old Jared sat in college algebra and had no idea that he would attempt a Master's degree on day, or that it would be in music. I was on a track to enter architecture school, but music resumed its alluring call. For those that don’t know, after high school, I earned an Associate’s degree in Architectural Drafting and then returned to a four year college to study Music Performance. 

Let me just say, graduate school rocks! I love my classes, I love my professors, and most importantly, I love what I have learned. In a single semester, I have seen myself grow tremendously as a musician and as a person. Thanks to often mind-bending classes, such as Future of Classical Music, I have learned to think and analyze in ways I had never previously considered. In particular, I contemplated my role in the future and history of music. I haven’t developed a Beethovian posterity complex, but I am much more keenly aware of what I can do to leave my mark, and make music last in this world. To me, the biggest determining factor regarding the prosperity of music in the future will be collaboration. Any art form that simply prances about alone will not endure. The arts must come together! The arts in general fight against an erroneous stigma in society today. They have to strive harder to prove their appeal and legitimacy over cultural giants such as athletics and sporting events.

So again I say, thank you to everyone for an amazing semester. I have enjoyed reading your posts and engaging in passionate discussions with all of you. Let us all be grateful that we have been a part of this education experience. An experience that is yet another lesson in the life-long pursuit of continual growth and knowledge.

Sunday, December 2, 2012


A few events from the last 24 hours, I think, are relevant to my final post. Many questions have come up in this class - purpose, venue, audience, consonance, dissonance, pretensioncondescension, class, the list continues - which, in my personal sphere, center around one dichotomy: complexity versus simplicity. 

Last night, while writing up something bizarre, convoluted, thrilling and questionable for EEP, I was happily interrupted by one of my artistic partners, a choreographer and playwright I've worked with on large-scale chamber ballets as well as 4 minute improvisatory solo dances. In discussing an upcoming project, she shared with me this piece of music, asking me if I was interested in creating something in this spirit for a very personal dance solo she was showing in a few months:

Her words: "I want you to explore and make the music that comes for the essential Kaley AND you should know, right now, I am very wedded to this particular feel. the simplicity. the stirring quality. The repetition. it's very cinematic actually. I listened to this this morning when snow was falling... it's snow falling music. it's water rushing music. it's of the nature music. it's melancholy beauty." 

I was struck immediately by the youtube comments (9,330 listens, 127 likes, 1 dislike): "Exquisite." "This is flawless artistry." "Musical perfection which stirs the heart and soul...music to write by..." "This piece almost has a mystical flair to it, I feel like I'm looking over rolling hills and enchanted forests from some old fairy tale." "On iPod on repeat. She is magical." "Nothing compares to the sound of the piano in this song. Nothing. Beautiful piece of music."

And then I remembered a composition lesson I had once long ago, not in this lifetime. I was showing a few sketches of a piece I was writing that used many drones, repetitive structures, and consonant harmonies, based in a West African tradition. The professor said something, nonchalantly, to the tune of, "I mean, if you keep making choices like that, it's going to be a minimalist piece. And obviously you don't want that." I remember staring at the score, puzzled, after this comment. The professor looked a little startled, confused that my reaction wasn't an immediate rejection of this horrifying prospect. "I mean, do you?" I think I shrugged, said something stylish and P.C. like, "I don't think I'm far along enough in the piece to know yet," etcetera. I left feeling confused, frustrated.

So I have been thinking about this piece non-stop since I listened last night, not only for its beauty but for the genuine, universal reaction it elicits. Why would we, as composers, ignore this? Why would we ignore this utopian acceptance of a piece, simply because it makes sense, it makes people feel things, it gives them images, it is a gift, an offering, a reaching out? Is it our goal to transcend that? And is that really transcending, or is it avoiding? 

Of course, after listening to this song and considering the setting of a dance solo, I happily accepted my partner's offer, with the following response: "It will be therapeutic for me to achieve this [simplicity], since every force in my musical life pushes me out of simplicity into complexity." She responded, simply, "I know."

With this on my mind, the morning's events at my usual church gig were rather poignant. A few hymns, a few choral pieces in, the minister decided to add a musical coda on to his sermon. He sang a phrase, modal, pentatonic, American: "There's always more love left." He asked the congregation to join in and sing any harmony they wanted. 

I was astounded. At the sound, and the feeling I had making it. I can't really describe it, just, harmonies, community, the ministers eyes closed, no one expressing anything too effusive, just a gentle, loving moment, probably inducing a surge of oxytocin in all of us. And then I realized that all other attempts at making music simply exist to replicate this feeling. Rarely do we experience an exact copy.

So, these two experiences, in the last 24 hours, have cemented a belief in my mind: music is not an intellectual experience. It is a physiological one. The future of music, I think, depends on this realization. The future of music is the above two experiences (and, interestingly, that's the past of music, too).

I probably sound like a broken record on this point; but I can't ignore it when I consistently have these shaking reminders - reminders that the most earth-shattering musical experiences of my life were communal, cathartic, and none of them took place in a concert hall.

Farewell, class - I'm privileged to have pondered these things in your company. Isaiah, I hope to continue to write on this blog as more interesting conundrums present themselves in my musical life....

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Giving and receiving feedback

As a graduate composition student, I've had the great fortune of being able to study with and pick the brains of a number of esteemed composers. Though I've never done so myself, I've often thought about teaching composition, which inevitably brings questions of aesthetics--what sort of criteria to use when evaluating a work, to what extent do I allow my own biases and opinions to shine through, and how to communicate my feedback in the most effective way. If we take the first two questions alone, it is easy to apply them to another aspect of being a musician: going to concerts and considering the artistic value of a piece or a performance. But often we don't get the opportunity (or we dismiss the option) of giving feedback to the performers and/or composers involved. It's my belief that if more concertgoers are able and willing to give constructive, helpful feedback, and if musicians are able and willing to receive feedback (and be able to filter through that which is NOT constructive), the overall artistic value will increase.

Feedback is a difficult thing, though--often it tells more about the receiver than the giver, for many reasons. In the context of concertizing, the audience/listener only perceives certain aspects of the music and the performance, and cannot give feedback on aspects that were outside his/her perception. And, the listener organizes these perceptions in a way that is meaningful to them, selecting certain aspects out of thousands that may be commented upon, according to the reaction they had to the music. And even if they are aware of these particulars, the listener's internal feelings and rules for commenting determine the style, choice of words, emotional tone, and non-verbal cues that comprise the entirety of the feedback. So, since it's clear that feedback tells more about the giver than the receiver, why bother to seek it out at all?

It is human nature to want to get information. Especially in an often nonverbal medium such as music, we want to be able to communicate our ideas with one another in a meaningful way, and often that involves the use of feedback. Artistic value is intrinsically tied to audience perception, so it is imperative that we understand what the perception is, and how to respond to it. So, learning how to ask for, receive, and appraise feedback, in my mind, is a worthwhile goal as a musician, and one that is absolutely necessary as a human being.

The importance of music

Lately, I've been seeing a quote by First Lady Michelle Obama making the rounds on facebook; it is from the 2009 Ribbon Cutting Ceremony for the Metropolitan Museum of Art American Wing:

"The arts are not just a nice thing to have or do if there is free time or if one can afford it. Rather, paintings and poetry, music and fashion, design and dialogue, they all define who we are as a people and provide an account of our history for the next generation."

Having encountered people throughout my life who were of the opinion I pursued music in order to avoid getting a "real career", I am cheered by such an apt and insightful quote. The arts are incredibly important to society, and I believe strongly that anyone who doesn't think so has simply not examined the ubiquitous impact of arts in their lives. It's heartening to know that there are those in the White House who acknowledge their importance.

I'll leave my penultimate blog post in the hopes that this quote, though three years old, continues to spread in social networks. I'll also leave with a question: how can we emphasize the importance of classical music, in particular?

Boston's Contemporary Music Scene

With the large number of relatively successful contemporary ensembles in Boston, it surprises me that there hasn't been more of a standout. Or at least one that I have perceived as such. I have attended performances by a few of the major contemporary ensembles this semester: Callithumpian Consort, Collage New Music, and most recently Boston Musica Viva. I addition, I attended a concert by New England Conservatory's Contemporary Music Ensemble as well as a "New Music Tuesday" concert.

The performers were incredible but what struck me most about the first three concerts was the audience. Most of the crowd (which was relatively small) was older and mild-mannered. For the NEC ensemble and Tuesday concert, the crowd was much younger, louder, and more energized. I imagine the size discrepancy has mostly to do with the relative ease of word-of-mouth advertising at a music school as opposed to general citywide advertising. I only wish that established ensembles outside of a music school could have that relatively easy ability to advertise.

This dilemma can be either be seen as a setback or an opportunity to grow an audience in a different way. The older, more established ensembles need to find creative ways to reach young people. Putting up posters and offering student tickets for $10 isn't enough to attract college students (as I witnessed at the Boston Musica Viva concert). While the programming with all ensembles was excellent (to my taste, at least), each ensemble needs to take a hard look at the choices they make and how that will affect their audience. This is not to say that anyone should water down their program to appeal to a mass audience, but looking for young, exciting composers with a growing following might be the answer.

In the near future, I plan to attend concerts by some of the other major contemporary ensembles in Boston (Dinosaur Annex, Boston Modern Orchestra Project, Alea III, etc) but for now I have to reflect on the concerts I've been to. It appears that audiences are drawn to concerts by one ensemble or another. Also, if concerts at NEC or Longy are any indicator, students at music schools tend to be drawn primarily to their own school's concerts to see their friends. I would encourage continuing to support friends in concerts, but also making new friends by going to concerts at other schools. It has been a real pleasure to experience the many musical offerings in this city after going to school in a small town in Virginia for four years. It is my hope that Boston will continue that have a thriving contemporary music scene for many years to come and I will play a part in it, both as a performer, and as an active audience member.

Thoughts from the underground

A few days ago, as I was reading the New York Times, I came across an article entitled Global Anthems for Saxophone, by Corey Kilgannon, about a musician that makes his living by playing the saxophone on the steps of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.  At first, I was mostly wondering why the New York Times had chosen to write about this guy, as opposed to the thousands of other music performers.  But it turns out that Isaiah Richardson Jr. has found the key to entertaining the masses of people that walk in and out of the Met every day: he plays different countries’ national anthems.  As he put it in the article, “Nothing works like playing something that people know.”  I find that so interesting and very true as well.  Even in classical music, there is something so wonderful about listening to a piece you have heard hundreds of time already.  And even people who know little to nothing about classical music will recognize the opening of Beethoven’s fifth symphony, and would probably like to hear the rest of it if given the opportunity.  
I found Isaiah’s story particularly interesting, as I recalled Joshua Bell’s incident in a D.C. subway station several years back.  The Washington Post had made a big deal about how the average person does not recognize greatness even when it is right in front of them.  Of course, my own thoughts go to the fact that Joshua Bell was playing during rush hour early in the morning.  In my opinion the experiment shed little light on whether people care about beautiful things or not.  I’ll admit that even if I heard a great violinist at 7am and was rushing to get to work, I probably wouldn’t take the time to stop and listen either, although I might appreciate the gift of beautiful music as I’m walking by. 
And then, there’s also the fact that I’ve played in the Boston T several times myself, (in the evenings) and while I’ve experienced a variety of responses, most of my time spent underground has been a lot of fun, eye-opening, and inspiring.  As a violinist, I’ve made it my purpose to learn and to know all six Bach sonatas and partitas for solo violin with the idea that no matter where I go, I can just pull out my instrument and play some really great music - and I’ve done just that in the T.  The first time I played, I found a spot at Copley station, and after an hour’s worth of music, I packed up and counted $46.  I can honestly say that I was not expecting to make much money at all, and I was thrilled to see that I could use this performance space not only to practice performing but also to help with my general expenses.  I continued to perform and ventured to the red line at Park Street, where I more than doubled my earnings.  But what I found fascinating was the way people reacted.  Sure, many people went about their days and didn’t give me a second look.  But often, people sat near me and listened, or stood near or far down the platform, but you could tell they were there and they were listening.  The experience also made me realize that appearances are deceiving.  Those who “look” like they listen to classical music were rarely the people who gave me money.  On the other hand, there were so many young people who took the time to pull out a dollar and put it in my case.  I ventured away from Bach once, and decided to play Isaye’s sonata no 2 for solo violin, which uses the dies irae theme intermittently throughout the work.  This young guy in dreads and baggy pants sat there as I played, and when I finished he said, “dude, that was sick!”  What a huge compliment, and how fun it was to play gigues and allemandes for him for the next half hour!  
     The experience has done a lot for me in many ways, one of which has been the realization that people actually like classical music.  Its future certainly lies in the hands of the younger generations, but I think it might be easier to grab their attention than we think. 

Pat Metheny's band of robots

I would like to share this video.


Monday, November 26, 2012

Time to Pick a Side

With regards to the Minnesota Orchestra lockout, the time for feigning impartiality for objectivity's sake is over. A recent Star Tribune report renders the management's stance virtually indefensible. From 2008-2010, the Orchestra drew from its endowment at unsustainable rates in order to balance the budget. During this time, the Orchestra was seeking state funding for a major remodel of Orchestra Hall. In 2011, during labor negotiations with the players, the orchestra decided to draw less and declare a $2.9 million deficit.

Since the orchestra decided to treat its endowment like a piggy bank, the MOA could write in their books with whatever color ink they wished. While soliciting state funding for a construction project, they decided to write in black (and deplete their endowment), when they wanted to cut their musician's salaries by 30-40%, they switched to red. The management that the Minnesota Orchestra deserves would have declared losses when the recession hit, scrapped the construction project, and decided not to jeopardize the orchestra's financial future before renegotiating players' contracts. As it stands, the musicians are still locked out, construction on a new wing of Orchestra Hall is under way, and the management still refuses third-party financial analysis. It will take more than a silver tongue and some finger-pointing at the MMO to explain this one away.

The marriage of movement and music

I currently work for the Boston Ballet, and am privileged to work backstage with a wide range of amazing,  professional people. It takes all types to make a ballet performance work. In addition to the dancers, there is an army of stagehands, child wranglers, dressers, electricians, and yes, musicians. I am sadly not one of the musicians in the pit, but at every rehearsal and performance I cannot help but conduct along or sing the entire score as I race up and down the stairwells. 

We are currently performing our yearly, holiday classic, The Nutcracker. On a side note, you must come see the production! This year all the sets, costumes, and even some characters have been completely re-vamped! My role in making this production happen is that of a child wrangler. I spend several hours corralling children and ushering them from wigs, to wardrobe, to the stage, and etc. I have to listen intently to the orchestra to hear cues to take the children from one location to another. So while I’m not involved in the music making, I am firmly tied to music listening. My musical training has been crucial to my job performance. I have had some conversations with my fellow musicians in the production, but most have not been stellar or engaging interactions. While the superiors in the company know that I am a composer, I often feel like I’m working incognito. I have always wanted to write a ballet (and have already started one), so I often feel like I’m getting inside information to aid my future writing endeavors. 

It is no surprise to me that the Boston Opera House has been packed for every performance thus far.  Both the reputation of the Boston Ballet and The Nutcracker bring in crowds of people.  People know the Boston Ballet for its dance and artistry, and The Nutcracker is known for the music. So which is it that brings people in? When I talk to my co-workers, they seem to love the music. When I talk to the dancers and children, they seem enamored with the movement. I myself am torn as I try to decide which aspect of the ballet inspires me the most. I have never studied ballet, but I have taken other styles of dance and been in the dance ensembles for many shows. Naturally, I am fascinated by the breath-taking movement and grace of the choreography. But I am also a musician. While Tchaikovsky’s score is somewhat of a cliché in today’s society, the music is simply fantastic. The rich orchestrations and memorable melodies stand on their own without the ballet the aid them. In the end, I really cannot divorce one element from the other. While both are tremendous entities in their own right, together they blend their various strengths to make a magical, musical experience. 

The point behind all of this is the value I have found in the practice of collaboration. Music might stand well on its own, as dance may as well, but both find true power in the marriage of their qualities. Music provides emotion, ballet provides movement, and the union is life-changing. As we continue to propel our musical craft forward, and into a (hopefully) brighter future, the success of that goal will be achieved by our willingness to work with others. A concert hall is great, but when the varied media of the arts collide, we encounter a true expressiveness, and really begin to make world-changing artworks.

Mahler On The Couch - Nov. 30th

     Before even continuing I should admit that I know very little about Gustav Mahler, but this was too interesting to pass up. As I was walking by Coolidge Corner Theater in Brookline my ultra-inquisitive girlfriend said "Hey Look! It's a movie about Classical Music". I kind of shrugged and laughed cause she always assumes that every music thing we see could be about "classical music". However; she read the title and I immediately stopped "Mahler (pronounced Maaaler cause she's from Kentucky) On The Couch'. It spurred my curiosity so I came home and looked it up. Apparently it was released some time in 2010 to very tame reviews. The subject matter, though, caught me by surprise. The movie deals with a meeting between Gustav Mahler and Sigmund Freud after Mahlers wife confesses her infidelity. This is in 1910 which is a little over a year before his death. Why was this important enough to make a movie about though? I dug deeper.
     The years before Mahler died were intense because he was in the middle of his 9th symphony and beginning the start of this 10th, which was to be incomplete at the time of his death. He was also taking a very demanding schedule conducting and was finding himself having a hard time balancing his work and private life. Up to the completion of this 8th symphony his wife Alma and their experiences together were of great inspiration and importance to him. So when his wife admits her infidelities and he begins his 9th symphony, considered by some to be his greatest work, he is torn between his two loves. The movie seems to chronicle the creation of the 9th symphony and correlates the piece with this events leading up to and after this famed meeting with Sigmund Freud. 
     This movie has certainly struck my attention and even though it's reviews are poor (how many composer biopics can you think of that garner rave reviews??) I still plan on seeing it. The movie opens up on November 30th at Coolidge Corner Theater. It won't be there very long so if you're interested in this you should check the schedule and go see it.


Tuesday, November 13, 2012

This is Water

I wanted to share the youtube recording of David Foster Wallace's 2005 commencement address at Kenyon College.

Part 1
Part 2

Here is a copy of the transcript if you care to follow along.


The case for shorter pieces

On Friday, I had the privilege of sitting in on a presentation of 60x60, a project created by Robert Voisey that features 60 electroacoustic compositions by 60 different composers, each lasting a minute or less, played continuously for one hour. Having begun the project in 2003, Voisey has curated several collections, many of which feature a theme of some kind (such as works that utilize a tuning system other than equal-temperament, or works by female composers). The concept is simple and effectively gives a cross section of contemporary art music being produced at this time. Longy's own Jeremy Van Buskirk contributed to this most recent compilation, whose theme is composers who have given public presentations of 60x60--a sort of tongue-in-cheek self-fulfilling goal.

As artists working in the medium of sound, our pieces necessarily contain duration, something that is not beholden to the visual arts. Thus, public presentations of aural works require that the audience listen for a fixed amount of time--no more, and no less--in order to fully experience the work. Unlike the visual arts, whose public presentations (such as in museum galleries) do not require uninterrupted silent appraisal, music happens over a fixed duration and cannot be relived at a glance. It's as Cook talks about in the "Imaginary Object" chapter of his book: when we take music out of duration and attempt to talk or write about it, we distance it from the reality of its visceral power and limited domain. And besides, modern concert hall etiquette dictates that the audience stay for the entirety of the performance, which can be uncomfortably long if the work isn't appealing.

However, 60x60 ensures that no individual piece of music lasts too long--you'd be hard pressed to find someone who couldn't sit through one minute of music that didn't appeal to them. Some might find the experience of shifting between pieces every minute jarring--a musical analog for changing channels on a TV, but in my experience, I was constantly engaged. Perhaps a trend towards shorter works is on the horizon. I have a feeling that a large part of the failure of classical music to appeal to a wide audience is the fact that when people think of that type of music, they think of hour-long symphonies and other large-scale forms, during which they must be seated and silent. This is certainly an unappetizing picture to paint, but perhaps with the proliferation of 60x60 compilations (which have also incorporated dance and visual art forms), a future of larger audiences for shorter works is on the horizon.

Music for Food

Last night, I attended a concert at the New England Conservatory (NEC), called Music for Food. The concert featured prominent faculty from NEC and other musicians who played for this charity. At the door, audience members are asked to make a donation of cash or food, which is then given to charity to support impoverished families in the Greater Boston Area. The event was coordinated by world-renowned violist Kim Kashkashian, who also played during the last number of the program. This concert was the 14th of its kind, the second of the 2012-2013 concert season. The concert itself featured two chamber works by Dvorak with one song in between by Vaughan Williams.

The music was as great as the cause itself. The first Dvorak trio was played with incredible ease and musicality. The second vocal piece by Vaughan Williams was sung by a booming baritone who epitomized the folk-like feel of Vaughan Williams pieces so effortlessly. Following a brief intermission, the final piece was a sextet by Dvorak which included Ms. Kashkashian on one of the viola parts. This piece was my favorite as I have rarely witnessed such a keen such of communication between the players, specifically the inner voices. The musicality shown amongst the players represented much maturity and wisdom that only years of integration in music can attain. At the end of the concert, it was revealed that over three thousand dollars were raised, money to feed a family of four for approximately ten months.

I believe that this kind of venue can only do wonders for the musical community (aside from the obvious benefits of feeding the poor). After viewing the concert, I am now curious to see if concerts like these have appeared in other cities. This kind of program could also stimulate a sense of community in smaller areas, allowing for younger musicians to showcase their talent while benefiting a good cause. Hopefully, the Music for Food concert series will continue to benefit all for years to come.