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....