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. 

Rock, (teach), and Roll

I have been teaching various students on and off for the past few years. Each has a unique personality and skill set. Just by the nature of everyone being a bassist, we're all a bit weird. Tonight I had a revelation in my teaching, however. It's not often that I talk about how fortunate I feel to teach music. I am getting paid to experience growth in my students and in myself. My sustenance derives from intense personal experiences.

You might be asking yourself why I am especially excited about my teaching experience this week. I didn't make extra money or cry as my student performed on stage. I am ecstatic because I taught a brand new student how to play "Smoke on the Water" on electric bass. Not just any new student, someone who had never played any music before in his life. I think he's ever sung in a choir.

While I primarily teach upright bass, electric bass has always been another part of my life. I started playing electric first anyways. You can thank my friend's dad for convincing me to play bass in his son's band. I am grateful for my experiences in a band so I hope to share that with others. In the same way, I am grateful for my experiences in orchestras, chamber ensembles, new music ensembles, and jazz ensembles. I hope to pass along those skills as well. Tonight I realized the extent that pluralism in music can affect people. Not everyone needs to play Classical music to be happy. I also realized that it feels good when you're student describes his lesson as "awesome" when talking to his Mom.

While I was teaching I sat intently watching my student struggle to hold his oversized electric bass and thought about his potential. Through some bizarre series of events in the universe this 12-year-old boy is now taking lessons from me. It's my duty to turn him into a rockstar.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Playing Catch-up

When reading Hewett's Healing the Rift I found it disconcerting that I- a trained musician of eighteen years-would not be familiar with a number of composers mentioned in the text; many of whom were composers of the 1960's and beyond. I find this fact to be ironic since one would think that the most relevant work to today's musicians in training would be the work of their most recent contemporaries. Art is an expression of life; it is a network of experiences, explorations and discoveries from one generation to the next.  How can we understand our place in the world unless we understand where we came from? I dappled in composition for a few years and through my modern ears-sensitive to the rich diversity of ethnic cultures and sub-American cultures that my environment has to offer- I found myself drawn to the musical quality of speech in a variety of languages, in the gestures of Indian raga, and in the symbolism of Afro-Cuban dance forms.  In addition, frequent opportunities to experience Art as an outsider from the tradition has made me accustomed to less-subjective analysis and has given way to intellectually-driven musical experiments.  How has my recent exploration been supported by the conservatory? From within the performance department, it hasn't.  My only real exposure to similar ideas has been through the composition department and through my peers. Classes like The Future of Classical Music foster dialogue about modern musical thought in an abstract way and in a way that encourages individual action but we also need to be educated on what has been done, what is being done, what is the mass of Classical minds of today up to? My training to be a performer has only over-exposed me to the music of Bach, Beethoven, and Brahms. To make my point more clear, let me present this question: Why do we expect Classical performers to be relevant to contemporary audiences if those performers fail to be familiar with contemporary musical thought? Musicians are disconnected from the network that is Art.  Conservatories do not treat the musical language of the 1960's and beyond as a necessary component of a well-rounded musical education.  We are still performing the works of Mozart and Chopin from a 19th century point of view- because that's really where our musical education stops.

 That is not to say that there does not exist a strong emphasis on performing modern works; in fact, performance of modern works is strongly encouraged.  However, that encouragement to perform modern works seems unsupported by sufficient intellectual preparation.  We have courses on baroque performance practice and the song cycles of Schubert, for example. Yet, I find these courses redundant since the style of these periods are thoroughly covered within the performers private lessons.  What conservatory students really need is a survey course on the composers, inspirations of those composers, compositional techniques, and musical thought of the 1960's and forward. We need a lecture-series including innovative, contemporary composers as speakers, and not just for the composition department.  We need a more interactive forum that will fester with creativity and newness; and one which will provoke active engagement in the music rather than the customary passive complacency that comes with disciplined defining of antiquated styles and performance practices. Upon further research, I was amused to discover that many of the composers of the 1960's have already explored concepts which to me are new and unexplored.  Imagine the impact we would have on culture if we caught ourselves up to all that has been done; then we might have more originality and relevance when it comes to what's possible.

Some fundamental attributes of modern music that have been neglected by conservatories:
  • minimalism
  • conceptual music
  • fusions between western classical and the classical music of other nations.
  • relationships between music and other Art disciplines
  • music and politics
  • music and spirituality/mysticism 
  • I am sure there are a lot of more that I have yet to discover

News from Minnesota

The Minnesota Orchestra recently announced that it would be cancelling 21 more concerts through December 21st. This cancellation includes many holiday concerts, which account for roughly one fifth of the orchestra's annual ticket sales. Management claims that the ball is in the musicians' court and that they have failed to come up with a counter proposal. Meanwhile, the musicians claim that they have offered three counter proposals, all of which the management has refused. This standoff has continued amidst escalating rhetoric from both sides.

The musicians, however, have plans that do not include the Minnesota Orchestra's management at all. According to the Minnesota Public Radio News, the Minnesota Orchestra's musicians have planned two more concerts on there own. These concerts are to take place on December 15th and 16th at the Tedd Mann Concert Hall at the university of Minnesota. The program includes Beethoven's ninth symphony as well as the Bach double violin concerto.

The musicians have created their own Facebook page and their own website, and with negotiations at such an adamant standoff, one can only wonder what the future holds for this organization. If these lockout concerts continue to gain popularity, and the musicians' cause continues to gain support, then management will have to make the next move.

Importance of Visual aspect of Performance

A distinctive visual aspect draws people’s attention. This fact is very apparent on visual advertisement or TV commercials. The significance of visual aspect functions as important role for performance (even classical music) too.

We can listen to music through Audio or Radio but music of seeing or watching should be achieved by visiting concert Hall or watching DVD. In every concert, the participants can observe the way of expression of each musician in their own way. Especially, when we go to concert like Symphony, we are able to see behaviors of the conductor, controlling entire body of orchestra. Some conductors behave very similar way for each performance, while other add some more spice on their behaviors. Only performance attendees can taste this spice and fun with it.

Last Saturday, I went to Boston Symphony Hall for seeing the performance of Danil Trifonov. I was not intended to listen to Prokofiev’s piece. However, I change my mind because I am fascinated by conductor’s performance during Danil Trifonov’s performance. He not only looked like dancing on the stage but also enjoyed his job. This fact made me in love with his way of conducting music.

Although Prokofiev symphony no. 5 is very long, he made me feeling very short.

Therefore, the visual aspect of performance should not be neglected and we as performers of classical might think of visually impressing the audience.



Beer in hand, din of the bar resounding, I lamented. "I just don't understand WHY you would write about SHAPES when people in this country are dying of starvation and worse things are happening elsewhere."

My colleagues are probably consistently frustrated with my frustration, but they are generous in allowing me to express. (Maybe this is because I'm often the only woman in a group of composers, and they're either afraid or amused by my passion.) One of them replied thoughtfully, "I mean, if we all wrote about starvation, then we'd all be writing about the same thing."

This is true. And in the moment, I agreed with him, and agreed that this would be a negative trend in the composition world.

But after another night of new music with my peers, my colleagues, my superiors, after many beers and firey, inebriated discussions of "to be tonal or not to be tonal," and after a fitful sleep following these excitements, I woke up still thinking about this exchange and the many others I had last night. Maybe it wouldn't be a bad thing if we were all writing about the "same" thing, if the "same" meant "human." Something having to do with human suffering, human joy, human connection, hell, maybe not even human, but living. What if we all wrote things that forced us to be together in the moment that we were listening to them? What if we wrote music that was inexorably tied to the forces that create, perform, and hear it?

In almost every other genre, music has a function. 

Think about that.

What is the function of classical music, other than just to "be music"? Obviously it varies greatly from piece to piece. But the more new works I hear that are exceedingly self-referential, that exist solely to experiment with forces, that push limits simply to push limits, that are considered "good" compositions simply because they use devices to create sound, the more I believe that our classical music society has wandered away from music having a function. A social function. A true genuine purpose for existing. Does a novel exist simply to be a collection of words, or is it the story, the affect, that propels it into value? We have all written about this in some way on this blog - from the posts about music having a role in social justice, to education, to concert etiquette, to popularization - and the texts we've read have dealt with this too. But when it comes down to it, I think the answer is quite simple:

When music becomes divorced from its social function, it ceases to be music. Our classical world has drifted much too far from the social function, which is why it is endangered.

I wrote that in one of my earlier posts. I now stand firm with that opinion and would say it to the face of every living and dead composer without blinking if I had the chance. The Dinosaur Annex concert as the Boston New Music Initiative concert I went to last night (on which some of my own work was programmed), in addition to almost every concert - not even just concerts of new works, but of 19th century, 18th century works as well, although in a smaller percentage - often leave me thinking, "why is this happening?" I must say emphatically that this is not a judgement call on the composers or performers. Composers write what they believe to be musically true, and I appreciate that regardless of the outcome. But that doesn't mean I enjoy it or feel like I am gaining anything from hearing it. We wonder why those who haven't been "cultivated" into classical music turn away from it so rapidly - its because it is often meaningless. There are more rules than there are pleasantries, more shelves of superiority than there are arms of empathy to embrace us. I am one of the typical, conservatory and liberal arts college educated listeners - I am cultivated, I supposedly "understand" the function of difficult music - and I do. When I hear works that bother me, I, for the most part, can tell you what the composer was trying to do and whether or not they accomplished it. But despite my cultivation, I still find non-musical music boring and pointless, and I would often rather be doing something else. It is the "gem" of a composition that keeps me attending concerts - typically 2 or 3 exist in a concert program, and thats enough for me to remain a patron.

So. I am frustrated. I believe with every fiber of my being that if you write music, you should write it to move people, you should write it to express human emotions or thoughts or feelings or SOMETHING other than shapes and numbers and experiments and rows and devices, you should write it about something that would exist regardless of whether or not music existed to express it. You should embrace the simplicity of sound, but not just for the sake of embracing the simplicity of sound. If we all do this, then we are all doing something different, because the myriad of human experiences is enough to write 800 lifetimes of melodies. If you don't do that, I probably will not enjoy your music, and I probably will not tell others to listen to it. I won't say I hate it, or that you are a bad composer. I (and others who are not "cultivated", or, perhaps, in this case, "indoctrinated") just won't really bother to do much of anything one way or the other.

And then I think - well, perhaps the purpose of these concerts, that program difficult pieces, is simply to start conversations such as these, and I would be lying if I said that we (composers) don't all relish and savor every second of these debates. Four beers in, even better. We connect with each other, we engage, we yell, we question, we disagree, we unite. And so there's your human function. Separate from the music. Or is it?

Marketing Ourselves

I came across an article by Brian Miller, Arts Branding Sucks, Here are 4 Ways to Fix It, via Facebook, and found it to be an interesting and practical take on how to find an audience and market ourselves to the general public. We’ve all had experience marketing ourselves to our peers with recital posters and word of mouth, but I’m fairly certain that my recital poster making skills that have consisted of printing out pictures of Harry Potter, Nazgul, Hobbits, and screencaps from The Office won’t get me too far in the real world.

What I found to be the most useful bit of advice in this article was realizing that our potential audience is usually not as interested in what we do as we are. Advertising a concert as simply a concert will reach fellow musicians, but not the broader public. To reach that audience, we have to figure out how to sell what we do to the public in a way that is meaningful for them. I liked Miller’s idea of selling the ballet to guys as a first date option. It’s plausible and reaches a demographic that may otherwise not have gone to the ballet.

Miller also reminds us that selling is not selling out. I’ve always been awed by people who have a natural flair and ease with self-marketing and networking. As a super introvert it’s not something I’m good at, and I doubt I’ll ever feel comfortable with it. But remembering that I’m selling what I do, and not selling myself out is a helpful nudge in the right direction.

The start of the article mentions how the London cultural scene has been completely revamped by this kind of thinking, and now reaches a much broader audience than it had previously. That is a hopeful prospect and a tangible model we can keep in mind. Marketing is a very large and real part of our lives that does not get as much attention as it should in our education. Perhaps that may be a requirement of all music students some day in the future. Until then, it is our responsibility to stay informed and updated on how best to market ourselves to the world at large.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Why do we do what we do?

I am privileged to work in a place where I have frequent interaction with professionals in many different areas of the arts. Every week I engage in meaningful conversations with authors, artists, and yes, musicians. One such interaction is my running conversation with a local artist. He and I like to share our different perspectives of the creative process in the arts. He is a creator of images while I, as a composer, am a creator of sounds. We have both benefitted from these conversations and have learned many ways to re-imagine our own creative crafts. However, this is not the topic of my post this week. 

Not all of my interactions with other creative individuals have been as positive. This past week I was shocked to hear firsthand, from a fellow musician, how much people can dislike classical musicians and their music. This individual, who I will call Martin, saw that I had a Stravinsky score on my desk as part of my analysis homework. He was absorbed and looked over my shoulder in fascination. As our conversation continued, I learned that he was a former Music Education major at the Berklee College of Music. Martin suddenly stopped talking, looked at me in disbelief and said, "...you classical guys. I don't get it. Why do you do this? What is the point?" Before I could respond, he exited swiftly. I sat in disbelief. I would have thought a fellow musician was 'on my side.'  Instead I was left alone and seriously considering my answer to Martin's question. 

Before I could gather my thoughts, another individual, Leila, approached and saw the homework scattered about my workspace. Leila is from Mexico and is an ESL educator. Her reaction to my analysis work was the opposite of that of Martin. She was excitedly effervescent. She began to tell me her life story involving music. Leila, in her younger days, was partially educated in music and used to travel to impoverished villages to play accordion for children. She would play transcriptions of classical works for these poor children and their families. She dramatically recounted some of her most exciting concert experiences and could still recall the oppressive climates she playing in. She was excited to see me involved in classical music and we shared some of our favorite experiences and what music has meant for us both. 

She left to teach a class and I finally had time to process all the information I had just received. I was surprised to see Martin completely revile my work while Leila was ecstatic. So I began to think, "why do I do what I do?" The answer is quite simple. I enjoy it! And why do I torture myself with difficult analysis projects? Because by learning what great composers of the past have done, I can learn to be a better musician, performer, and composer. 

I like to think that part of Leila's positive attitude comes from a positive experience in music. Her experience was rather unselfish and altruistic. Is Martin's negative attitude the result of unrewarding and self-fulfilling endeavors? In my personal opinion, I think this might be so. I get the most reward from music when it is shared with others unpretentiously. When I remove myself from the equation and allow my focus to be the audience, I get the most out of what I am doing. This inevitably begs the question, who is our music for? I will let you answer that one on your own. 

I hope that in reading this, you begin to ask yourself the same questions I have asked myself. Why are you a musician? Why do you do what you do? All music, regardless of genre, popularity, or your own personal success, is a wonderful thing. I am flabbergasted when I face cynical attitudes in music. Perhaps I am too naive or innocent, but I cannot comprehend cynicism in terms of music. I am simply too enthralled with the beauty, power, and complexity of it to be pessimistic! I would hope that you don't allow negative thoughts and unfulfilled wishes to sour your love of what you are doing right now and what you will do in the future. 

Popcorn at the Opera

As the art world continues to search for its place in today’s high speed society, the Met has taken some important steps in keeping up the pace.  Nine years ago it launched a program called The Met: Live in HD.  This performance series, which involves broadcasting live opera performances in 54 different countries, hopes to reach out to new audiences who may not have the opportunity to hear opera otherwise.  
          Of course, the two experiences are widely different from each other, but as it turns out, both offer their own set of advantages.  A live performance where one is sitting in the hall, allows for the audience member to pick and choose what to look at, to observe, to listen to and notice.  In the HD performances, the cameramen make those choices for the public.  However, the resulting effect remains cohesive, as hours of preparation go into the filming of these performances, and each crew member is acutely aware of all the details of the performance.  As a bonus to those sitting in the audience of an HD performance, interviews with the stars of the show are broadcast during intermission and a behind the scenes look allows the public to peek into a world which would otherwise be closed off.
Once again, the lines between high and low art are blurred as a genre which has been long been considered the epitome of elitist art has been made widely available to the masses.  However, I wonder if the Met has gotten what it wants.  Has it truly reached new audiences?  Or has it simply expanded its pre-existing public?  In France, newspapers are advertising The Tempest, which will be shown live in about a hundred different theaters this Friday.  But how many of these movie goers haven’t seen or heard opera before?  Perhaps most of them, or perhaps none at all.  
          While I applaud the Met’s work and I believe it is a huge step forward to give the opportunity to all to hear and see one of the greatest opera companies in the world, I wonder if the Met is truly directing its efforts the way that it should.  Where are these broadcasts advertised?  I realize everything is a question of money, but simply advertising on their own website isn’t going to open the doors to newcomers.  I think it’s a wonderful thing that these broadcasts are offered in movie theaters, as this maintains a fragment of the feeling involved in actually going to the opera, but I can’t help but wonder what a huge difference it might make if they made trailers the way they do for regular movies.  From my optimistic point of view, advertising to the general public in a way that is familiar to them would draw in new and excited crowds.  People would probably enjoy the familiarity of the movie theater, which is less intimidating than the opera house... and after all, what’s wrong with watching Mozart’s Le Nozze di Figaro while munching on some popcorn? 

Sharing A Failed Experience

     I'm going to be short today cause I haven't much to say about this, but I feel I need to share this with you. This past week for me has been one of extreme frustration. Last week I got a call from a production company to do a new play that they were putting on. As usual per these gigs, the singers have been learning the material for 6 months, but he musicians have never even heard the music. So when we all came in to the room and talked it was clear that everyone had done this sort of thing before. It felt like it was going to be business as usual. A lot of reading and counting and looking for cues. That was not the case. What ensued was a 3 hour headache of missed cues, getting lost in the score and mass confusion as to why this was happening.
     The first thing I asked myself was if I was the problem. Was I really this bad? Is it possible that I had forgotten how to play music correctly? I was extremely frustrated and by the end of the first rehearsal I was ready to quit. I had suffered through some bad rehearsals before, but this one takes the cake as the worst. I take pride as one of the few guitarists in Boston that can sight read at a high level so when faced with this score I thought: "No problem! This is nothing new to me." But it was. The only, and I do mean only, consolation at the end of the night was that everyone in the group felt the same way about themselves. So I guess I can't take all the blame, however; I still felt like I had taken a few steps back. The odd thing about it is that we didn't understand why it was so bad. It was as if someone had flipped a switch in that room and turned off all the talent. 
     Perhaps I'm being too hard on myself and maybe it wasn't as bad as it felt like. Maybe it was all a dream, but I doubt it. Hopefully this doesn't deter you for ever wanting to work with a guitarist. I'm really not as bad as I just made myself sound, but I did feel I needed to share this with you guys. In a time when I've had more success than any point in my career this has been the most unusual of road bumps. A reminder that no matter how good you think you are there will always be something that brings you back down to earth. Hopefully, though, it was just an off night. 

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Ideas of the wikipedia article:

1) Judy Ross- Student of Nadia Boulanger, contemporary of Aaron Copland, legendary theorist.

2) Conceptual Music

3) Music and Spirituality

4) Ludmilla Lifson

5) The Lilypad (in Inman square)

Reconciling Modernism in Music

The conclusion Hewett draws in the "Multiplicities" chapter is striking to me, and it reflects my thoughts about the programming of classical concerts. The great diversity of aesthetic sensibilities we are constantly subjected to on a daily basis is mirrored in concerts that feature "new music," or music composed within the last 50-100 years. The only thread that unifies such works is the acceptance of them by institutions and new music connoisseurs, but as Hewett elucidates, each has developed its own private "language" or worldview that it uses to orient its materials. Even works by the same composer are given to dramatic differences in language, form and conception--so it's no wonder that concerts featuring such a scope of pieces not only at odds with themselves, but also their single unifying theme of modernity at odds with the aesthetics of music as a whole, become inaccessible.

Some possibilities for a Wikipedia article:
1. Puppet Showplace Theatre--though this isn't strictly music-related, this nonprofit I work at is one of the biggest performing arts organizations in Boston and does not have a decent Wikipedia page.
2. ALEA III--the new music ensemble in residence at Boston University; since 1980 they've held an International Composition Competition for composers under age 40.
3. Ruby Rose Fox--Local musician and singer-songwriter who has performed with a number of Boston theater organizations.

Music in the popular consciousness

Yesterday, a coworker was listening to some interesting music in her phone, and I asked her what it was.

"It's Florence + The Machine!" she answered. "This music always makes me want to cry, it's so good."

"I think I've heard of that," I said, surprised. I joked about my woeful lack of knowledge about popular music (a trend that began well before I started to pursue classical music, somehow even when popular music was all I listened to).

"But I like some classical music, too," said my coworker. "I love, what's it called... 'Lacrimosa"."

"That's actually part of a requiem mass," I answered. "Do you mean Mozart's setting?" I hummed it.

"Yes!" she said. "Ugh, it's so beautiful. I'd love to hear more stuff like that."

I love conversations like these because, 1) they make me feel a little smarter (ha, ha); 2) it's interesting to see which classical pieces are in the popular consciousness (Pagliacci is another one people just seem to know); and 3) it proves to me that people do have a liking for, and reaction to, this music even if they haven't been taught about it.

It brings me back, in a way, to a conversation we had last class--are program notes and in-depth information about these pieces always necessary? I think they certainly enhance the musical experience, and the academic high-brow person in me does, admittedly, cringe a little at the thought of certain pieces of information going unknown by the listener--but my coworker had a reaction to a movement of Mozart's Requiem Mass without even knowing what it was. She loved it!

I do think continued education on classical music is vitally important, but to draw in new enthusiasts, it might be better at first not to scare them away by telling them how to listen.

More Than 99 Problems

As the 2012 Presidential campaign comes to a screeching halt, politics has made strange bedfellows in the music community as well. It is difficult to imagine two musical styles in the popular vein is distant from one another as those of Bruce Springsteen and Jay-Z, but that didn't stop the two from performing on the same stage at an Obama campaign rally in Columbus, Ohio earlier today. Obama spokeswoman Jen Psaki said in an interview with Jim Kuhnhenn "Bruce Springsteen, and some other celebrities who have been helping us, reach a broad audience that sometimes tune out what’s being said by politicians."

Of course, as with any campaign strategy, two can play that game. In the Romney-Ryan corner, both Kid Rock and Meat Loaf have donned the musical gloves in the fight for undecided voters. History shows that music wields enormous power for affecting political change, but I believe that the divisive nature of politics in this country has gone too far. When Jay-Z gets on stage and raps "I got 99 problems but Mitt ain't one", he is not talking about the issues. He is not changing the way that people think. He is only inflating shallow prejudices about the President's opponent in the hopes of swaying low information voters to his side. Musicians can do better than to superficially consign their voice to the divisive political system that plagues our society.

Monday, November 5, 2012

In the eyes of the French

           With the presidential elections this week, American newspapers have been bombarding us with an overload of information on both candidates and incessant poll updates, which in reality have not brought much new information to the forefront and has begun to feel redundant.  As a result, I decided to cross the Atlantic and take a look at the sorts of things being talked about in my home country.  
In France, the newspaper Le Figaro had several interesting articles pertaining to the art world and I thought that its take on American culture might bring a new and interesting perspective to our discussions.  As citizens of the United States we are often prone to point out this country’s flaws, politically of course, but also in smaller subsets, such as the state of culture as it stands today.  We’ve talked about the place of popular art versus elite art, and have felt helpless against pop culture, fighting to maintain our place as classical musicians in a society that seems to be shutting us out.  
We have been trying to figure out a way to make classical music modern and pertinent, and to make modern classical music accessible and maybe even popular.  We’ve talked about Fifty Shades of Grey, and have balked at the idea that classical works infused a novel that clearly belongs to popular culture - two worlds that couldn’t be further apart.  For centuries now, Paris has been one of the leading capitals in the world for culture.  It boasts several important museums such as the Louvre, the Grand Palais, and the Musee d’orsay, among countless others.  It has been a center for music, fashion and literature as well.  So when I saw an article entitled “L’Amerique dans tous ses etats” (America in all its states), I wasn’t sure if I was going to like what it had to say.  
The French have an aptitude for making themselves sound superior and have always had a love-hate relationship with the U.S.  However, I was pleasantly surprised to see that it had some really great things to say.  It started out by listing several American goings-on about Paris, such as an Edward Hopper exhibit, a West Side Story production and the press around Philip Roth’s newest novel, Nemesis.  It did not omit the waves of popular culture that sometimes appear to reflect all that America has to offer, such as Fifty Shades of Grey for example, but it reminded us that America is not “just Fifty Shades of Grey... not just Avatar.”  The article also reminds us that America is one of those countries which does not stay stuck in the past.  It is quick to reinvent itself and a huge force to contend with in contemporary art.  It cites as an example Michelle Obama’s penchant for wearing (and thereby endorsing) clothes by up and coming designers - the first First Lady to do so.  This may seem trivial, but it is often through small gestures that points can be made and culture identities are established.  In the eyes of the French, America is not sinking in an oblivion of mass popular culture; it is constantly reinventing itself and on the edge of modernity.  
           This article reawakened in me the feeling that I first felt when I came to this country - that here, anything is possible.  Although that feeling has never left me, it has at times been buried under the mountain of scrutiny which all of us are guilty of.  We are always harder on ourselves than we are on others, and it becomes easy to forget to notice all that is good.  I do believe that America is a land of opportunity, and a place where reinvention is indeed a way of life.  We have so many options and possibilities available to us, and while the road is not always easy to follow, in my opinion, it has at least been built.  It gives me hope for the future of classical music, as we continue to discuss and become creators of new ways of promoting it, performing it, and educating our public.

Ideas for Wikipedia:

The Beethoven Festival
Classical Music in Film
Martha Argerich Presents Project

Pro Awesome/Wiki Ideas

I was talking to a fellow classmate today (Robin Rhodes) about music and the topic of terminology came up. As students today, we are expected to write with fundamental skills and fluidity. Furthermore, we are expected to write with mastery of grammar, sentence structure, and overall mastery of the English language if we are to be taken serious in the academic world. I agree with this to an extent, but should we be so strict in our writing so as to segregate ourselves from other groups?

To elaborate, we can say that there some common view of classical musicians as being elitist, or "culturally superior" to the rest of society. With that said, I believe that we should not condemn others for using words that are considered colloquialisms when describing music, using words such as "awesome." When we present our music to the public, we should not expect them to use eloquent language to describe how they enjoyed our interpretation of a piece describing form, harmony, and musicality. If they want to say the music is awesome, let them say the music is awesome. How can we condemn our listeners when they are the ones who support us? We should be encouraging them rather than correcting them.

As stated earlier, I do agree that students should have the ability to write well to be taken seriously in the academic field; however, I believe that there is a time and a place for everything.

Possible Wikipedia Topics
1.My teacher Dimitri Murrath
2.Non-standard classical music venues
3.Modern genres of music (Blending of styles)
4.20th Century Violists

Current Wikipedia Ideas

1.) Most likely: Wolf Ginandes. A local legend here in Boston. Responsible for many innovations in instrument construction and repair. Also a stellar Bassist who has played all over the world with some of the greatest R&B and Blues singers from the past 30 years. 

2.) Expanding the entry for David Tronzo, a former teacher of mine and one of my closest friends. 

3.) Creating an entry for "Jacks" in Beach Haven, NJ. This was the site for many musical beginnings on the Jersey Shore. It was where I had my first gig as a 14yr old and was lost during Hurricane Sandy. 

Possible Wikis....

Continuing my vow of silence.....

..... VOTE!!!! ......


- Creating an article about soprano and composer Kate Soper
- Expanding the article on composer Gwyneth Walker
- Expanding the entry on Dorothy Rudd Moore
-An addendum to the article about American art song that includes discussion of non-european vocal styles
-An entirely separate article about non-classical American vocal styles

CDZA and Final Project Ideas

Last week, I mentioned finding a YouTube video where children dressed up with powdered wigs and 18th century costumes sang pop lyrics over classical music. I originally found this video while listening to Classic FM and thought they were somehow related, but it turns out, the video came from a group called CDZA. At first, I thought the video was ridiculous and provided no meaningful way to engage kids who love pop with classical music, since the melodies and musical contexts are so different. However, once I heard Katy Perry and Beethoven together, I’m a bit embarrassed to admit, I couldn’t get that mash up out of my head. It’s an interesting idea, but I think it should be taken one step further, like we briefly discussed in class. Instead of superimposing pop melodies over classical pieces, why not compose new classical pieces influenced by pop music?

This group has a lot of other videos on their website that I haven’t had a chance to see yet, but A History of Whistling and Western Music in 16 Genres look intriguing.

For my Wikipedia article, I’ve been considering the following:
- An article on Claire Chase, a recent MacArthur Fellow
- An article on one of my professors from Syracuse, NY, Dr. Joseph Downing.
He’s an active composer in the central NY area.
- Some kind of article about extended techniques on the flute; extended techniques were listed as needing more information on the page sharing potential article ideas, but this is an extremely broad subject and is often piece-specific, so I’m not sure how successful it would be.
- An article about the ASCAP Foundation

BSO concert: Sierra, Tchaikovsky and Prokofiev (Nov. 8-10)


The follow announcement is excerpted from BSO web site. Here is program note.
At the heart of the BSO's November 8-10 program-led by Costa Rican conductor Giancarlo Guerrero, and featuring Russian pianist Daniil Trifonov in his BSO debut-are two powerhouse Russian works: Tchaikovsky's Piano Concerto No. 1, a fan-favorite and repertoire staple, and Prokofiev's Symphony No. 5, described as a "hymn to free and happy Man," which the composer wrote in 1944 amidst the chaos of World War II. Puerto Rican-born composer Roberto Sierra's colorful Fandangos for orchestra (2000) opens the program.

Last month, Daniil Trifonov performed a debut recital as Celebrity Boston at pickman hall, Longy school of music of Bard College. He will perform with Boston Symphony Orchestra (BSO) at Boston symphony hall this weekend. The reason that I want to share this concert is that at that time we could not attend to his performance in Pickman Hall, because Daniil Trifonov’s recital was already sold out. If you have a BSO college card, you can pick up from Monday, November 5. Or, you can acquire rush tickets with cheap price on the performance days, if you are full of patience. However, there is no way to guarantee the ability of rush tickets.
I think it would be good opportunity to experience his performance and Boston Symphony Hall at the same time!

•Thursday, November 8, 8PM
 •Friday, November 9, 1:30PM
 •Saturday, November 10, 8PM

 Boston Symphony Hall Boston MA

** Wikipedia Ideas:
1. Pianist Eda Shylam, My former teacher
2. Galilee Ensemble ( My father's leader of ensemble )
3. Seunghee Yang ( Violinist, South Korea)