Sunday, November 30, 2014

The Last Class

Julia Adolphe has a collection of blog posts on New Music Box about her time as an undergraduate student and her experiences teaching music theory to prisoners through the Cornell Prison Education Program. Her final post, Incarceration and Musical Inspiration Part Four: The Last Class, discusses her feelings of accomplishment as well as her fears as a teacher.

Julia’s compassion for her students was evident when she wrote that the thought of her students fading away disturbed her. She wondered how or if her students would continue studying music or if they would be released from prison. She would never know if they went on to accomplish goals for themselves in any way.

The last class that Julia taught at the Auburn Correctional Facility broke down barriers for both Julia and some of the prisoners. Although nervous, Julia shared her contemporary chamber pieces with her students.  He Disappeared into Complete Silence was a piece that Julia shared. The text is based off of dark poems by Louise Bourgeois. I could only imagine the sense of fear or nervousness that composers must experience when sharing a composition.  One of the main reasons why Julia wanted to play her pieces for her students was to see if contemporary classical music could be accessible to people who haven’t had that type of exposure. 

After listening to the composition one of her students spoke to her, “As long as you write from a place of love, other people will love it too. When I hear your music, I can tell that you love what you do. I can sense how much joy it brings you to create, to express yourself, and that makes me feel good. That brings me joy. All you can do is write the music that you love.”

I really enjoyed reading this set of articles by Julia Adolphe. I can’t really wrap my head around the fact that such a young woman would have the drive to better the world in such a way. Julia’s story is truly inspiring to me. I hope that I can find my voice in helping society through music someday.

Farewell to Thee!

The semester is coming to a close faster than ever before. Time has truly flown by; so much to do, so much to practice, so much to think about. This class, in particular, has given me many reasons to stop and think. I’d like to thank Isaiah and every class member for their unique insights in discussions throughout the course. It’s been a pleasure to hear what all of you have to say on this subject of the future of classical music--needless to say, a uniting subject for a group of conservatory students.

There are two central concepts this course has caused to mull over in more depth than ever before. The first is how I relate to music as a performer, and why. So many of my concerns and opinions about how performers should make interpretive choices were brought to light. If composers are humans, too, then why are performers all but obsessed with recreating the exact intentions of the composer? I think it’s more rewarding and admirable to play the interpretation you believe in than to be a slave to the urtext (and unless the composer explicitly released an edition of a work, declaring, “these are my final markings,” how do we actually know a marking is urtext-worthy?) Composers are to be respected, of course, but where does the place of interpreter land in the hierarchy of musicians? Well, seemingly nowhere, which I think is quite unjust. Interpretation is a skill of its own. No amount of markings on a page can really express the true character of a piece, and it’s the interpreter’s job to make something human out of a piece of music. Humanity is what makes people listen. Reading about and discussing the concept of a reception-based approach to thinking about music--where the roles are flip-flopped, and musicians should actually care about how our art will be received by the public--helped me to better understand my own opinions, in a sense.

Hand-in-hand with the idea of a reception-based approach to music is that we, as musicians, have allowed our audiences to be alienated. By not caring about what they want to hear, and allowing them to feel unfit for the task of understanding classical music, we have driven away the most important group of people in music: the very people we need to listen to us. It’s every musician’s responsibility to care about his or her audience and be welcoming to anyone who wants to listen. I have more faith than ever that neither our audiences or our music are the problem. It’s how we choose to share it. It’s time to stop underestimating audiences and start welcoming them, so we can show them they know more about music than they think they do.

I leave this class feeling more empowered and inspired as an artist. Every day, every concert, every piece, every phrase, and every note is an opportunity to help someone feel something they did not know they could feel. Maybe, if I succeed, they will return to the concert hall some other time.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

The Innate Quality of Muisc

What is it about music that makes it so special? What is it that makes people listen and connect to an art form older than the cave paintings?  How do we as artists tap into that aspect of music which people have subconsciously known for thousands of year?  After reading a recent article in The New York Times by Anthony Tommasini I was struck by his understanding of the effects of music.  He was discussing why the use of recent events in Opera, Movies and Theatre can be so polarizing.  Works like "Klinghoffer" and "Anna Nicole" cause visceral reactions from the audience even though their is an understanding that certain artistic license has been taken.  What has always drawn me to music is the ability of it to tell a story whether that story is a year old or 1,000 years old.  Mr. Tommasini takes that a step further because their are aspects of a story that music is able to convey without having to explain the emotions or the context outright.  He cites Nico Muhly's "Two boys," which deals with the true story of a 16 year old boy who kills a younger boy due to different voices in an Internet chat rooms.  Mr. Tommasini says that its "music taps into the inarticulate teenager's sexual stirrings and confusion." 

He then goes on to talk about "Klinghoffer" and that it "attempts to ruminate on a seemingly endless conflict and on what motivated these terrorists, without in any way explaining, let alone excusing, their actions. Music, with its murky, innate powers, is uniquely equipped for such and effort."

Music can help us understand the unexplainable.  I think this is what I have been trying to articulate since my begging posts here on this blog.  Music is more powerful then we remember to give it credit for and it is this power that we need to remember every time we put together a program, recital, concert or performance.  We need to go back to the basics of what music is and focus on what the music is explaining to us even when it is unexplainable.  When we utilize the innate qualities of music we will be able to evolve/continue our art form and keep the seats filled.  There are not many art forms or outlets that the quality that music has. People will always search for it somewhere and we have to be that somewhere that they can find it. 

Click Here for the article.

The Light at the End of the Tunnel

For many of us, our years of higher education are coming to an end. After semesters of work and hours of practice, we are soon to be masters of music. We have spent this semester looking towards the future of classical music, we have discussed and debated many points of view with a healthy dose of zeal because this isn't just a hypothetical future, this is our future. The future that is soon to become our present.
What can we take away from all that we have explored? What lessons can be applied as we take our first tottering steps out of the know into the unknown? Though it may sound cliché, my biggest take away from this class is that the future will be what we make. It is both exciting and daunting to discover that the world that we are about to join on a professional level is in a state of flux. But this is where we can find a certain sense if freedom.
As people are looking for new ideas and new solutions, ways to modernism the classical world, there is new area opening up to us. The marriage between music and technology is no longer only in the hands of people that officially majored in that field, with current advancements with a little know how it is within the reach of you and I.
As Harry Slater wrote in his article Music graduates are more employable than you might think.
"With unique skills and a broad range of graduate jobs on offer, music students have better prospects than people imagine."
I think at least on some level most of us have a fear in the back our minds. We worry that we won't actually be able to make it in the music field. And we wonder how long we will be, pardon my scare quote "starving artists."
But as I read Slater's article I realized how marketable we actually are. Even jobs outside the field of music hire music graduates for their skill sets. Now if you are like me, you really don't want to go into a non- music job upon graduation. However, knowing that I probably could get a job in other fields if it was necessary is completely liberating. I don't have to approach my musical career with any fear. I can create, explore, and discover, taking risks without a fear of failure.
My fellow 2015 graduates, I leave you with a quote, as Ms. Frizzle from the show Magic School Bus,puts it so well. "It's time to take chances,make mistakes and get messy!"
I look forward to meeting you all in the inspiring daylight of our post-Longy lives.
For more information visit

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Questions for Dean Chin

Questions for Dean Chin

1)      What are your thoughts on multi-arts presentations such as the video along with the LCO at SeptemberFest? Modern dancers or art installations accompanying live music? Do you think these collaborative efforts could help music students learn from other art students?

2)      I really enjoy the TAP class and was wondering if there is a way for Longy to create more outreach projects in other ways?

3)      How did Longy reach the decision/create/develop the new training orchestra program?

Monday, November 17, 2014

Questions for Dean Chin

As an educator, is there a singular item (skill or attitude) that you wish that more Longy students  would master or acquire prior to graduation?

I've heard around the water cooler that I "won't recognize Longy in 10 years."  I sense that the administration has big plans for our school.  In a nutshell, where is Longy going? Will its core mission change?  Are there any imminent faculty or staff appointments you can discuss that reflect that change / movement?

I second Doug's question.  Where do you see the future of live performance heading?  And given that, how should we students position ourselves to be at the vanguard?

Can you please discuss the Longy Alumni community?  What resources might be available to us at graduation?

What steps might you recommend for those of us who hope to ultimately wind up in an academic/administrative position like you?

Sunday, November 16, 2014

dean chin questions

What do you think of formal concert attire?  And for that matter, have you seen, or do you expect to see musicians of today and tomorrow move away from the traditional  gown and tuxedo staple, a spotlight on a stage, and thoroughly waxed instruments reflected on a spotless hardware stage?  

How can we as musicians, as true artists, explore the limitless space of what visual art can add to our practice, performance, and pedagogy?  

In the future of classical music, will tradition trump individuality and innovation?

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Questions for Dean Chin

How can we make progress in ensemble performance?

As music college students, we need a great deal of performing experiences not only in the symphony orchestra, but also in other types of ensembles to accumulate the experience in varied repertoires. Since the three orchestra concerts this semester only allowed students to perform one to three times (depending on instrument.) Do you think we can set up more and various concerts for orchestra?

It is the most important thing for everyone if we can practice hard and positively by ourself. Besides, I was wondering if the school could push us to promote to a higher level in performance. For the orchestra, is it possible to make a real grading system (A, B, C, etc.) for each one? Since it should be a reason to make everyone practice and respect the music in the orchestra.

Kill the lights.

Last Saturday, I attended an unusual performance at the Institute of Contemporary Art in Boston. The concert was given by the JACK Quartet, a string quartet dedicated solely to the performance and commissioning of new music works. The particular performance I went to was the JACK’s rendition of Georg Friedrich Haas’ String Quartet, No. 3 “In iij. Noct.” I had never heard of this composer, who was born in 1953 and is still alive. I had heard of the JACK quartet, but never heard them play, either live or in a recording. My experience as an audience member was exactly that: an immersive experience.
I read before trekking downtown that the quartet was written by Haas to be performed in complete darkness--I thought, interesting. Why not? Upon arrival at the ICA Theater, I handed over my ticket, and was informed by the usher, you will not be able to leave during the performance. This foreboding message had me feeling uneasy, but I soon found out there was nothing to worry about. The audience was welcomed by a friendly ICA higher-up whose name I cannot remember. He explained exactly how everything would happen. A two-minute darkness test was administered so if any person felt truly unsafe, he or she had the opportunity to flee and receive a full reimbursement of the ticket fee. Our cordial announcer-of-the-night emphasized the locations of every exit in the theater (Haas explicitly instructed that even exit sign lights are verboten), and called our attention the presence of the ICA house managers, who had night vision goggles. These people would come and whisk us away if we absolutely could not go on in the darkness-- hold your hand up nice and high, and keep it there until someone comes to escort you out of the theater. All in all, the concept of a performance in complete darkness was risky and potentially problematic, but it seemed that the ICA team had made an effort to think through every foreseeable problem and create a solution. The JACK members filed into the theater to hearty applause. Each member proceeded to set up in a different corner of the theater. Here we go. The lights of the theater dimmed and went out.

I was not sure when the quartet began. The first minute of playing consisted only of the softest finger-tapping against the fingerboards of the instruments, one player at a time. It was almost as if I was at the ophthalmologist, getting my eyes tested by that machine that creates barely perceptible blips at random places around the screen while you stare at a predetermined point in the center (push the button if you see one). The sound kept leaving and cropping up again from a different location, causing me to question, did I really hear that? Then, abrasive, single note outbursts began to arise sporadically from the texture. This as far as I can remember chronologically into the piece. What I do remember is having some of the most coloristic and tactile experiences I’ve ever had with sound. The JACK’s very tight ensemble was showcased with some tightly-knit dovetailing of various motives--which is particularly commendable given that they were performing from memory within an intentionally improvisatory framework set up by Haas. The experience as a listener was almost like seeing light travel through a prism in slow motion, and in great detail. What I would guess was a little more than halfway through the performance, I began to experience sound as a tangible object. Every individual instrument seemed to produce a strobe of sound particles hurling at me in the darkness. I actually felt these imaginary particles hitting my face. Even when some sort of light accidentally flickered from the outside world in between the theater’s light-blocking panels, it seemed to coincide with gestures in the music, and I paid attention even more. Somewhere tucked in the work was a single phrase of highly tonal music among the otherwise atonal fabric. With all ability to look at the performers and all concepts of traditional harmony stripped away from me, that simple chord progression sounded more profound and hopeful than it would have in more ordinary circumstances. Quite near the end of the performance, the quartet executed possibly the longest and most evenly graded crescendo I have ever heard. It must have lasted for three minutes. All four players played in double stops and at different speeds, and the tension was absolutely flooring. I wasn’t sure when the crescendo peaked, but suddenly, it had become a diminuendo. The piece ended as quietly as it began. The audience was so attentive and enraptured that as long as a full minute passed between the last note played and the first few claps of applause. The ICA did not turn on the lights until the applause began--we all sat together in the dark, hypnotized, wondering if the sound had stopped or not.

It seems that more and more, performers and audiences alike are no longer content with the old-fashioned concert where performers get up on stage and just play some music. Whether it’s playing music with a film projection, playing in the dark, or making a concert interactive, the public seems to want a multimedia experience when they enter the concert hall. Maybe this is a trend or a fad, or maybe this is instrumental music’s way of catching up to the multi-faceted entertainment medium of opera. Either way, I know that the performance the JACK quartet staged was art. They, in collaboration with Haas, forced me to hear and experience reality in a new way. And that was definitely worth the trip downtown.

When it Rains it Pours

What was once known as building a library is now considered hoarding. CREDIT ILLUSTRATION BY MAURICIO ALEJO
"Recently, while moving my CD collection to new shelving, I struggled with feelings of obsolescence and futility. Why bother with space-devouring, planet-harming plastic objects when so much music can be had at the touch of a trackpad—on Spotify, Pandora, Beats Music, and other streaming services that rain sonic data from the virtual entity known as the Cloud?"
This is the opening paragraph to Alex Ross's article The Classical Cloud published in Sept, 2014, which explores what is lost when the cloud replaces the CD.
When was the last time I purchased a Cd? I literally can't remember. But when was the last time I downloaded a song? Last week. The last time I was on Pandora? This afternoon.
"Yet I’m wedded to the wall of plastic. I like browsing the spines—Schnabel, Schnebel, Schnittke—and pulling out disks at random. Even in the age of Wikipedia, liner notes and opera librettos can be informative. (Not everything exists online: I tried and failed to find the libretto for Franz Schreker’s “Christophorus,” which begins with the lines “Her eyes—hot summer. / Her thinking—cool.”) I get a pang of nostalgia in seeing recordings that I bought almost thirty years ago, using money earned through an inept gardening business: the cover of Karajan’s Mahler Ninth bears the scratches of a dozen college-era moves."
I still remember my CD of Phantom of the Opera from back in 8th grade. Every detail of the liner notes, the pictures they used from the movie, my feeble attempts to draw said pictures from the cover. It wasn't just music from a good musical that I happened to be currently obsessed with, it was an experience. When you download a single track from an album or pull it up on YouTube, it is far less personal and much less memorable.
Music is a personal thing, and emotional tool. Is the cloud helping not just classical music, but all music to lose some of its significance? If it's so easy to obtain it, does it become less poignant? Could there be such a thing as too accessible?
'.... only by buying the albums are you likely to help the label stay in business."
So according to Ross, not only does buying the CD of an album instead of grabbing bits and pieces of it from various online resources give me something to hold in my hand that I can attach some memories to, it also helps the artist and the label break even. I think it's about time I went out and bought a CD.
For more information visit

Met Opera Stars Made Humble

It is no secret that the Metropolitan Opera has been struggling financially over the past few months. Both ticket sales and corporate sponsorship have declined while production values have gone up, resulting in lost jobs and cuts to the salaries of the Met's unionized workers, including the orchestra, chorus, and stagehands.

This week, the New York Times shared that general manager Peter Gelb has started asking celebrity opera stars to accept 7% cuts in their salaries as well. Gelb promised the singers that this pay decrease would be optional, that it could be replaced by a tax-deductable donation to the Met of the same amount, and that whether they agreed to the cut would have no bearing on the Met's artistic opinion of them. The author of the article names Anna Netrebko, Joyce DiDonato, Plácido Domingo and Renée Fleming as singers who have already volunteered for a decrease in salary to help the Met.

This is not the first time big name singers have been asked to accept less money in hard times for the Met. In the early 20th century, Enrico Caruso offered to take a smaller salary to continue being the Met's main ticket seller. During the Great Depression, general manager Giulio Gatti-Casazza proposed similar salary cuts and got the agreement of all of his stars except Beniamino Gigli. In the recent recession, the Met also asked artists to accept less pay, without as much success, but Gelb thinks that he will get better results now that the unionized Met workers have agreed to a decrease in salary.

Some might say this is a fair application of the "tax the rich" approach to financial stability. Since the big name artists get the highest salary, decreasing their salaries would save more money and get the Met out of trouble. On the other hand, as the article author alludes to in passing, enough of a decrease might dissuade some celebrities from performing at the Met, because they can get better pay at other opera companies. For now, let's hope that enough stars pitch in to make things better.

Read the article here.

Questions for Dean Chin

Where would you like to see the future of the school head?

It seems to be an interesting time in the world of opera, we have a majority of major opera houses either closing or in financial crisis but at the same time many younger smaller opera companies sprouting up that only produce between one to three shows a year.  Do you see this as the future of opera performances or a viable business strategy in the opera world?

Do you think that streaming performances besides those in universities really does bring more people to classical music or does it allow those who are already fans a way to not go to the theatre and decrease sales of tickets?  Do we then start to charge for the ability to live stream?

Where do you see the future of live performances heading? Will they continue to be the way they know them or how do you see them evolving?

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Questions for Dean Chin's November 18 visit

Kindly enter here your questions for Dean Chin.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Unsung Heros

This week I decided to focus my attention back to the Met and look at a role in the opera house that is mostly unspoken about.  That is the chorus master of the Met, Donal Palumbo,  who started his tenure at the house in 2007.   Since he has become the chorus master he has raised the level of the chorus to that of the orchestra, arguably the best opera orchestra in the world.  The article speaks the Mr. Palumbo's tireless work ethic and how even with the standard rep he is still trying to find new nuances in the music for the chorus to bring out.  He is a master at finding the places to remove the legato for a greater emotional response or where to add it in.  He has also been fortunate that in the last few years he has been able to appoint 40 new members to the chorus due to retirement.  This has allowed for Mr. Palumbo to get a younger sound from his chorus.

While the majority of the article is about Mr. Palumbo's career and impact at the Met, it also shows the underbelly of what makes the Met's artistry.  We as an audience forget that when we attend an opera or orchestral performance that there is so much more that we are paying for then just the players and the conductor.  We are also paying for people like Mr. Palumbo who make the Met what it is and bring a level of artistry that is hard to rival.  Audiences have forgotten that when they pay for a newspaper, magazine, or a ticket to a show that there are other costs they have to pay for besides the main players.  If we don't have great people like Mr. Palumbo we loose the artistry and slowly we loose the standard of quality. 

Full article here

New Beginnings through Unchartered Territory

Julia Adolphe is a composer who has recently been selected as a winner of the League of American Orchestras and EarShot’s orchestral commissioning program. She has had her works performed by the New YorkPhilharmonic and numerous chamber ensembles throughout the country. An advocate for music, she has also developed music programs for both the St. Turibius Elementary School and the Auburn Correctional Facility in New York.

Julia began teaching at Auburn Correctional Facility when she was a senior in college along with her peers Claire Schmidt and Stuart Paul Duncan. The course is a part of the Cornell Prison Education Program. It was developed to better these prisoners’ chances of becoming successful members of society once they are out of prison and to also help them come to terms with their own imprisonment.

During the beginning of this course, Julia felt scared and also remembered how sickened she felt while reading of the prisoners’ stories in the newspaper. Understandably, the security checkpoint lasted for an hour. As the semester progressed, Julia felt more at ease. 

“Yet the moment I arrived in the classroom, these men transformed into my students. Despite their crimes, I grew to care for them as fellow human beings whom I hoped would grow and change. They were no longer nameless men in green with an identifying number but real, emotional, articulate individuals who taught me as much about music as I taught them. I sat next to them, separated only by a desk, while they told me about the music they loved and revealed their artistic aspirations. When Claire and I moved about the room, the men would make way and always ensure we had enough space. They did everything they possibly could to make us feel at ease. They understood how they were viewed in the eyes of society and cherished the feeling of normalcy and respect created within the classroom.”

Julia was 21 years old when she taught this class and was baffled that these men were more eager to learn about music theory than her college freshmen. They needed an outlet to express themselves and had a curiosity about music. They asked her questions such as, “Why does music have meaning?” and “Why do different people like different music?”

These prisoners had committed unspeakable crimes yet they still became students once they were in Julia’s classroom. One man wanted to learn how to notate rhythm so he could document his raps. Another man wanted to learn how to write music to go along with his poetry. 

Julia mentions that this specific life event has molded her into the musician and artist that she is today. The questions that they asked her made her wonder what was behind her drive of becoming a composer. She advises everyone who wants to become an artist to work outside of your comfort zone and push yourself as an artist to connect with the world outside of your own to gain new experiences.
Julia’s post is a new series on New Music Box. I’m looking forward to reading more of her posts to get a better understanding of what she experienced during her time as a music theory teaching at a maximum security prison.

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Yes, the chili video.

If you have not seen it already, a recent viral video involved the Danish National Chamber Orchestra beginning to play the last movement of Jacob Gade's Tango Jalousie, pausing while each of its members ate one of the world's hottest chili peppers, and finishing the piece with the musicians fighting off the burning taste in their mouths.
This video earned over two million views in only a week and as of this post has over a 98% like-to-dislike ratio. It was promoted by reputable news sources such as NPR, Time magazine and the Huffington Post, as well as dozens of lesser-known online news portals and Internet culture websites. The comments on YouTube consist mostly of impressed and commiserating viewers, marveling at the musicians' concentration and professionalism but amused at their discomfort.
"Challenges" like this are a staple of current Internet culture: The long-standing cinnamon challenge and the recent ALS ice bucket challenge are just two of the many, sometimes dangerous, dare games attempted by videomakers worldwide. For an orchestra, an organization with a strong need to adapt to modern trends, a memetic device such as a challenge might be a good start to gaining popularity among a younger audience. It has certainly made an impression since the video went viral and viewers might be rushing to the Danish National Chamber Orchestra's website to find out their history, or else trying to learn more about Jacob Gade's music.
On the other hand, there might be such a thing as going too far. Several YouTube commenters expressed their concern that the orchestral musicians should not have put themselves at risk for the sake of exposure. Other professional musicians might worry that people will expect the Danish orchestra to pull more stunts or that the orchestra will become known only for the video and not the music. In short, will they "sell out?" Obsessed with formalism and professionalism, the classical music world might not want to give up its niche for the sake of widespread popularity, even though popularity could keep it alive. A classical music organization using "cheap" tactics, however well they work, could be looked on as having a lower status and lower standards. Does it really matter what works anymore? Will chewing hot peppers and fighting back tears lead to a brighter future for classical music?

An Open Reaction for Audiences

As we discussed in our class, audiences today have a higher position than before between the relationship of composers and performers. The article, “There Is No Right Experience” by Nick Norton, a composer and guitarist, analyzes how a concert affects audiences’ experience of music and how it depends on the presentation of music. In the article, the author discusses two different ways to present music, “traditional” and “alternative”.

        “Reverence and silence with which most classical concerts are done now,” Jonny Greenwood, the composer said in a recent BBC interview. In the traditional way to present the music, audiences are assigned the roles of listener, who should follow the traditional ritual and rules during a concert. In short, they can just sit and concern the music completely. By contrast, an alternative concert does not have a regular model or place to present. For example, Gnarwhallaby, a contemporary-classical chamber ensemble of clarinet, trombone, cello, and piano, plays their repertoire in bathrooms during parties. However, if the experience alters the perception of the work, what is being created?

The listener decides the work what the work is - each individual will have a unique definition, conception, and experience of the piece. On the other hand, the work is presented the way which the creator intends to be. Anything that happens after the work is created, which gives a positive and respectful transformation, is still viewed as the work. Obviously, the concert experience influences a listener’s experience of music no matter which model. There is no limit for the art; relatively, there is no right experience for the audiences.