Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Questions for Dean Chin

  1. What is the value of music education in relation to endeavors outside of music? 
  2. Why did you decide to become a musician/music educator?
  3. Do you think classical/western art music is really dying? Or will it continue on as a niche genre that it seems to be today? Might it be assimilated into other musical genres in the future and therefore lose its "purity?" 

Monday, December 2, 2013

A Very Young Audience

The New York Philharmonic is known for many reasons, and one of those reasons is their Young People’s Concerts, which began in 1924.  These concerts were especially popular from 1958-1972 when they were broadcast on television with conductor Leonard Bernstein.  For the last nine years, the Philharmonic has also supported Very Young People’s Concerts, designed for children between the ages of 3 and 6. 

The Very Young People’s Concerts happen three times each year, and they are led by two violists who have been members of the New York Philharmonic for a long time, Ms. Rence and Ms. Young.  While they tell stories and interact with the children, other members of the orchestra perform music to go along with the stories.  They have a penguin, named Philippe, who goes on adventures.  In their most recent concert, Philippe went to China and the musicians performed Ravel’s “Mother Goose Suite”. 

Working with the musicians are artist Marion Schoevaert, who illustrates Philippe’s adventures, and a Columbia Teacher’s College professor who helps decide what is most appropriate for young children.  They have to be very careful when putting together the music and the story because kids have immediate emotional reactions to music.

I think that these concerts are really great for several reasons.  The fact that young children have emotional reactions to the music demonstrates how important music is for kids of all ages.  Although these children are unlikely to remember specific experiences that they had in these concerts, they will grow through these musical events, and hopefully they will continue to be inspired by music as they grow up.  It is equally as important that the parents share in these experiences.  As the parents see the impact music has on their young children, it will encourage them to continue making music a part of their children’s lives. 


"Simplicity" in Music

Ever since I took this class on the Future of Classical Musicians, I have found myself discussing the concept of "simple" and "complex" music with fellow musicians.  What makes art music simple or complex, and is one better than the other?  Has our recent change in favoring more straightforward and instinctual music said something about our society, and is the rise against this simplicity a valid argument?  The answers to these questions can be very opinionated and varied, but are very important inquiries.

I believe in the value of complex music.  Composers such as Elliot Carter, Schoenberg, and Pierre Boulez are vital in the scope of art music for the way they challenge the boundaries.  They also question aesthetics and the "tradition" of music, as discussed in Music: Healing the Rift by Ivan Hewett.  I cannot help my own personal taste and instinctual disdain toward such music.  Perhaps it is my view that the complexity of the music is so high, and the process is so meticulous, our mind is unable to listen and process such complexities.  However, my opinions do not change how important the contributions are.

Some people may, and have scrutinized my taste in music because of my fondness of Eric Whitacre, Steve Reich, or Arvo Pärt to name a few.  I have always wondered why people feel the need to hate "simple" music.  The blog post on New Music Box called Fear of Simplicity by Isaac Schankler brings some interesting ideas behind why these strong opinions exist.  He says: "There’s a weird combination of admiration, envy, and condescension that often comes into play when composers talk about simplicity. We can admire its bravery, its unabashed unembellished-ness. But maybe we’re unsure how to judge it when there isn’t as much on the surface to analyze. And maybe we want to protest, “But I could just as easily have done that,” even though of course we didn’t. Maybe we resent someone calling “dibs” on that idea before we got around to it."

Perhaps we judge too much in the substance and depth of something by its simplicity or complexity.  The blurred lines in art music is what makes it so interesting, infuriating, and fascinating at the same time.  Since we have had this long-standing tradition for so long, we get confused on whether or not to stick with the traditions, throw it away completely, or have a little of both.  There is beauty and fortune in the ability to have all of it.

Questions for Dean Chin

1.  Did you see where you were going with your musical career, and how did it differ from where it actually went?  Was it anything as you expected?

2.  What are some tasks for the day in the life as a dean in a conservatory?

3.  Do you view spreading art/teaching artistry/education as more important as being a performer?  Why or why not?

Questions for Dean Chin

1.  How do you balance your time as an active performer and teacher while holding such a big administrative position?

2.  What has been your most inspiring experience as a musician?

3.  What do you think is the most important thing for us to keep in mind as we enter into today's world of professional musicians?

Questions for Dean Chin

1. What's the vision of Longy?
2. How Longy prepare students for future classical music?
3. Can you talk about education purposes for Longy to join the Bard College?

Conductor or Not

Traditionally in an orchestra, there is a conductor that leads; however, we do see some Youtube videos or public orchestra performances without conductors. On November 24th , The New York Times talked about one special Philharmonic performance without official conductors. After Itzhak Perlman resigned as the Westchester Philharmonic’s artistic advisor and primary conductor in the middle of the 2010-11 season, the orchestra began to play with guest conductors and soloists who lead the orchestra. According to Joshua Worby, the philharmonic’s executive director, who has been involved in negotiations in recent weeks, the orchestra hopes to install two new conductors soon. But for the moment, the guest-leader policy continues, and arguably to concertgoers’ advantage, since the next person to assume the role will be one of the leading pianistic thinkers of the day, Jeremy Denk. He is being billed as the soloist-leader in a November 24th concert featuring Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 25 at the Performing Arts Center of Purchase College. A Mozart sonata and works by Beethoven and Haydn will round out the program.
Personally, I do not agree with the idea of a professional soloist conducting the orchestra. Although I’ve seen videos of Zimerman Beirnstein conduct the orchestra during his performance of Five Beethoven Piano Concertos, I think the orchestra still needs an official conductor, that is one that has been specifically trained to do just that. The most important role a conductor plays is to lead symphony members through rehearsals and performances. He or she accomplishes this in part by standing on a podium in front of the musicians, while executing a series of specific arm movements. The musicians interpret these movements, gaining information such as how fast or loud to play. A conductor learns standard conducting patterns as part of his or her education, but each develops his or her own style or approach over time. Fundamental knowledge of every instrument is standard as well (which is not necessarily a prerequisite for professional soloists), and during the rehearsal process, conductors might physically demonstrate or verbally describe exactly what they want orchestra members to do to get specific sounds. Without an in-residence conductor, the orchestra does not have many opportunities to rehearse with conductors and get accustomed to them and their conducting style or incorporate their specific musical demands.

Value of Music in Higher Education

I read an article this weekend that detailed the discussions of a panel at the Royal Academy of Music on music in higher education in the United Kingdom. Though the panelists specifically had the future of the UK’s school system in mind, I think the subject is relevant to many developed nations with music programs in higher education.

The panelists put music’s value in our culture under a magnifying glass. On the one hand, everyone agrees that music enhances lives and contributes to the larger culture and arts. On the other, it is generally accepted that those choosing a degree in music as their main subject of study in universities are not seen to be as employable in a wide range of career paths, as opposed to less specialized but still lower-earning degrees.

The contributors at the round-table discussion contended that music’s value in higher education is valid because it “…equips students with a spectrum of transferable skills that are of inestimable value in the workplace…” and that the value of music should not continue to be judged in terms of its relevancy to subjects outside of the arts.

I agree with the former statement to a point. The panel says that these transferable skills include “… collaboration, analysis, work ethic, empathy, innovation and performing well under pressure.” Although I think that many music students can bring these skills to the workplace, I do not think that most interviewers will see these positive traits. In today’s economy, it seems that the most valued skill in the job market is practical experience. Instead of implying that a person has good work ethic and might be a good collaborator, the interviewer only sees that music has nothing to do with accounting/business/customer service, etc. Therefore, the candidate’s amount of experience and aptitude for the field is probably little to none. Sometimes I wonder whether this is a case of bad marketing on the university’s part. If graduates in music were lauded by their schools for these positive workplace traits instead of focusing on the few that have made it big, would employers have a different idea of the value of a music degree? Or is this more a case of personality, in which music students in general are not very excited or motivated by the concept of a 9-5 office job, and therefore fail to cultivate “successful” careers?

The latter statement is more contentious.  I believe that music, like the other arts, cannot escape value judgment by those parties not involved in the arts. Music is entertainment for those who already have money, and most of those who already have money are not professional musicians. Whether this should or should not be the case, to change the capitalist mindset of our western culture would be much harder and would take far longer than simply tweaking the way we view music’s value in higher education. What makes money is good, and what doesn’t make money might be nice or entertaining, but it is not essential. I received very little help in career guidance from my undergraduate institution. Maybe music in higher education could use a few changes itself in terms of giving students the tools to survive in a world that does not value their skills enough to earn a living. And perhaps we, as musicians, can attempt to change this negative mindset, one work of art at a time.  

Questions for Dean Chin

1. What do you think is the biggest challenge that classical (or, Western art) musicians of our generation will face in the future in terms of career?
2.Where do you see the students of Longy in the future?
3.What would you wish that a Longy student represents to their future employers, students, etc.?

Dean Chin Questions

1. How long was "the new Longy" just an idea and how long did it take to put into place?

2. Did you ever have doubts in your musical training that you should not continue with me/you weren't cut out for it?

3. Collaboration seems to be a forte of yours, but when can we see you give a solo recital?


Some things I'd like to ask Dean Wayman Chin

Dean Wayman Chin will be visiting our class again and so we have been asked to think of some questions to ask.  In researching Dean Chin, I found that he got his bachelor's degree, cum laude, at the Hartt School and his Masters at Yale.  He is very accomplished overall but I haven't seen anything about a doctorate and, if it is true that he never got one, I'd like to ask if that posed a challenge in getting University positions and what particular accomplishments he feels trumped the need for a doctorate.

When he was last in our class, he spoke of wishing that he could have spent more time working on musical skills besides just his specialty in piano.  I'd like to ask what areas he would most like to be more active in, or have developed more in, as well as what vision he has of how education might facilitate more rounded, eclectic musicians.

I would also like to ask him what positive potential he sees in art music mixing in with other styles in terms of concerts where they share the same bill, or fusions between the two.  More specifically, if this happens, what does he see as the essential ingredients important to preserve in art music, which can't be compromised for the sake of outreach and survival.

Detroit Symphony Broadcasts

Acclaimed conductor Leonard Slatkin wrote in the Huffington Post this week about marketing efforts of the Detroit Symphony Orchestra since its 2010 strike. The strike lasted for six months, during which Maestro Slatkin says that many people assumed the fall of DSO was just another casualty in Motor City. However, several efforts by the orchestra have created a path for renewed interest in the organization. 

First, he describes the efforts the DSO has taken in broadcasting their concerts - both online and on public television. This creates a wider audience, which includes people who may not even know the orchestra exists. The word "audience," he says, has changed. "No longer does it consist of just those people who come to Orchestra Hall, but it now includes music lovers in homes, hospitals and even automobiles." Slatkin even likens the new efforts of the DSO to national broadcasts of the New York Philharmonic on Sundays.

By broadcasting concerts, the orchestra is able to provide more for listeners than they would get if they came to a live performance. Mainly, the article mentions that they can broadcast interviews with composers and musicians between pieces; they can also include voiceovers about the music on the program.  

I think these initiatives are a good idea and seem to have success, since the organization has recently invested in robotic cameras, which will allow for a larger variety of angles for their broadcasts. I do have further questions, though. With the broadcasts in place, I wonder what their changes in marketing have been -- how do they get people to tune in? Do they advertise live concerts as much as broadcast concerts? Does the live streaming cost money to watch? Further, have ticket sales gone down since the broadcasts started? 

Monday, November 25, 2013

New Voices, New Music

Last week at Carnegie Hall, four young chamber ensembles had the opportunity to work with emerging composers as part of a six-day workshop called “New Voices, New Music”.  The program is one of several activities that was put in place by David Lang, the holder of this year’s Richard and Barbara Debs Composer’s Chair at Carnegie Hall.  Carnegie Hall offered Lang a range of options for what he could do as the chair, and he wanted to do all of the activities.  

In February, there will be a family concert with the Bang on a Can All-Stars, followed by a chamber-orchestra concert in March by the ACJW Ensemble.  In April there will be a six-concert festival titled “collected stories”.  There will also be several performances of Lang’s own works, the first of which was performed by So Percussion this past weekend.  In the workshop last week, the ensembles and composers worked both with Mr. Lang and with members of the International Contemporary Ensemble.  There were also four aspiring music journalists who attended to work with the LA Times critic Mark Swed. 

A LA-based quartet called gnarwhallaby, which consisted of a clarinet, trombone, cello, and piano, performed “Lullaby 4” by Nicholas Deyoe.   Although there was a sense of structure, the piece had “the spontaneity of free improvisation”.  The New York chamber ensemble Hotel Elefant played an emotional piece by Mary Kouyoumdjian, which displayed her feelings about visiting her ancestral homeland of Armenia.  Mivos Quartet, also from NY, performed Robert Honstein’s “Arctic”.  Eastman BroadBand performed Carlos Iturralde’s “Fata Morgana”, which included a wind trio in the balcony and a string trio on stage.

Lang wanted to make sure that the performers of the various groups were not feeling competitive, so he combined all of the groups to play “Stamping in the Dark” by Daniel Goode, “13 Changes” by Pauline Oliveros, and “Serenata per un satellite” by Bruno Maderna. 

This workshop sounds like it was a huge success.  This type of learning experience is extremely valuable and beneficial for the performers and composers.  It is also a great way of promoting these specific musicians, as well as new music in general.  It seems like David Lang is a perfect person to have in the Composer’s Chair, as he is open to a variety of new musical ideas.  He stated that, “you have to design doorways for as many people to walk through to find this music as you can”.  He is certainly doing this by promoting various styles of new music.  He is promoting music written by well-known composers and unheard of young composers, and he is promoting the performances of famous chamber ensembles and emerging artists.  He is making these concerts available and accessible for everyone through events such as the family concert, and of course Carnegie Hall is a great venue to do this in.   These types of activities and visions are exactly what new music needs. 

Viola Organista Comes to Life

A Polish pianist Slawomir Zubrzycki has reconstructed an instrument from over 500 years ago. Viola organista, invented by Leonardo da Vinci in the Renaissance Era, has apparently never been built before. The model sketches are found in the Codex Atlanticus, a collection of drawings and texts by da Vinci. It took Zubrzycki three years and 5000 hours to build the viola organista.

The instrument looks somewhat like a baby grand piano and combines characteristics of the harpsichord, organ, and viola da gamba. It consists of sixty one steel strings, four spinning wheels wrapped in horse-tail hair, and foot pedals. Unlike piano, it does not have hammers, but the spinning wheels create sound in a similar fashion to violin.

Zubrzycki premiered the viola organista in October at the Academy of Music in Krakow in Poland, playing pieces originally written for the viola da gamba as well as harpsichord. Here is a Youtube link of him playing it: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sv3py3Ap8_Y.  I respect Zubrzycki for his patience in building the viola organista. If one has the time and energy to do it, I support the projects of recreation of old instruments, or any inventions for that matter. Even if no one was enthusiastic about hearing the viola organista any more as of now, as I personally am not particularly, it adds to the richness of available sound. For composers, it could be interesting to explore its potentialities, and those explorations may inspire others further, or spark new innovations in terms of sound or instruments. 

Interview of Jianzhong Wang

Recently, I am writing Jianzhong Wang for Wikipedia entry. When I am searching the resource, I find one interview particularly catches my attention. The China Daily talked about Jianzhong Wang in September 13th. Wang, an influential Chinese composer and music teacher, gave a lecture on his piano works on Tuesday at the Mannes College of Music in New York. More than 100 of Wang’s students and admirers attended the event which also celebrated the composer’s 80th birthday. The night’s program included “Liu Yang River” (1972), “Three Variations of the Plum Blossom Melody” (1973), “Hundreds of Birds Worshipping the Phoenix” (1973), and “Evening Song on the Fishing Boat” (2006). All of these are famous piano repertory in China.

The former vice-president of the Shanghai Conservatory, Wang is a household name in China thanks to his large body of works for piano composed in 1960s and 1970s, music that bridged traditional Chinese music with Western classical and modern composition styles. His music bridged traditional Chinese music with Western classical and modern composition styles. His piano compositions were valued for what they revealed about the dilemma faced by Wang’s generation of Chinese composers during a time of great social turmoil. The popularity of his works continued after the bans on contemporary music and Western music were lifted in the 1970s. He successfully developed a piano style that captures the sound and spirit of traditional Chinese folk music by integrating ornamental tones, chromaticism, and pentantonic scales.