Sunday, February 28, 2010

Thank you Ms. Lipman, Thank you Mr. K

A wonderful surprise by Joanne Lipman came in today's New York Times. This is one very striking explanation of the "why" of music, particularly the "why" of having music programs in schools: it has a great deal to do with community.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Notes per second?

Life in an alternate television universe. The judges needed to determine if all of the notes were played, and if they were played in the right order in order to break a world speed record. I wonder if they figure in the rests as well? Does pizzicato count?

The Ludovico Technique in Action

From Weaponizing Mozart
In January it was revealed that West Park School, in Derby in the midlands of England, was “subjecting” (its words) badly behaved children to Mozart and others. In “special detentions,” the children are forced to endure two hours of classical music both as a relaxant (the headmaster claims it calms them down) and as a deterrent against future bad behavior (apparently the number of disruptive pupils has fallen by 60 per cent since the detentions were introduced.)

One news report says some of the children who have endured this Mozart authoritarianism now find classical music unbearable. As one critical commentator said, they will probably “go into adulthood associating great music—the most bewitchingly lovely sounds on Earth—with a punitive slap on the chops.” This is what passes for education in Britain today: teaching kids to think “Danger!” whenever they hear Mozart’s Requiem or some other piece of musical genius.

The classical music detentions at West Park School are only the latest experiment in using and abusing some of humanity’s greatest cultural achievements to reprimand youth.
This really crosses the line for me. I saw A Clockwork Orange only once, and even though it was 30 years ago, it still terrifies me more than any memory of any movie. There are many ways that exposure to Mozart (and others) can improve the lives of young people, but this is not one of them.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Brainwaves and Music

Using brain scanning equipment Professor Kraus, who presented her findings at the American Association for the Advancement of Science in San Diego on Saturday, said the brainwaves recorded from volunteers listening to music could be converted back to sound.
In one example where volunteers listened to Deep Purple's Smoke on the Water, when the brainwaves were played back the song was clearly recognisable.
She said: "When we play the brainwaves back as sound, although they don't sound exactly like the song, it is pretty similar. It shows that the brain matches the physical properties of sound very closely."
You can read the whole article, with the alluring title, "Audiences hate modern classical music because their brains cannot cope," here.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

The Werner Icking Music Archive Needs Help


MARCH 8 UPDATE: Everything looks good. The WIMA is up and running. There are still a few things to fix, but you can access it here.

FEBRUARY 27 UPDATE: There are some solutions being explored. Hopefully the WIMA will have a new home soon.

The Werner Icking Music Archive, an archive dedicated to providing thousands upon thousands of free PDF files for musicians, has suddenly (and without notice) lost its server. If anyone has any ideas about providing space for this extremely valuable corner of the internet, please either leave a comment or send me an e-mail message. I will relay the information to editor of the Archive.

Here is the message that I received this morning from the editor of the Archive (which is also in the comments):

Since 2007 WIMA has been hosted by DAIMI (The Dept. of Computer Science, University of Aarhus, Denmark). Unfortunately this has suddenly stopped. A few hours ago the DAIMI staff, without precedent warning, disabled WIMA's part of the DAIMI web server. The reason is that WIMA is causing a too high load on DAIMI's web servers, threatening the faculty activities.

For the time being WIMA takes up 16G disk space. The January Webalizer visit statistics came out to 2,165,121 total hits, and 1,628,099 total files. Here are the rest of the stats:

Hits per Hour : 2,910 (Average) 11,532 (Max)
Hits per Day : 69,842 10,2820
Files per Day : 52,519 84,621
Pages per Day : 2,164 3,571
Sites per Day: 3,935 6,069
Visits per Day : 1,279 1,436
KBytes per Day : 10,805,387 103,106,373

Perhaps someone reading this might be connected to a university (or know someone at another university) that would appreciate the prestige of hosting such an important website. The WIMA was the first website devoted to making public domain classical music available for free over the internet. It is managed superbly, and it contains a great deal of early music (pre-baroque) that is not part of the Petrucci Library, as well as a great deal of new music by living composers.

Everything you always wanted to know about countertenors . . .

. . . in three easy podcasts! Jeffrey Dooley and Nick Fritsch talk about the countertenor voice in its historical context, featuring wonderful recordings (and discussions about recordings) by Russell Oberlin.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Joachim by Spy


My father had this Spy (his real name is Sir Leslie Matthew Ward) portrait of Joseph Joachim on the wall of his teaching room for as long as I can remember. Now that he is no longer teaching, he was kind enough to send it to me! Joachim now looks down on my students while they play (and he looks down on me when I teach). I'm glad that this print is hanging far enough away for my students not to see Joachim's straight thumb (on his bow hand) or the raised index finger on his left hand!

You can see more Spy portraits here.

Answers in the Back of the Book

I had a special math book when I was in the fifth grade. It had coded answers in the back for all the homework assignments. I cracked the code, and got 100s on all my homework assignments, but I didn't learn a thing. I credit the difficulty I still have with math to that wasted year. I was just a kid. I didn't tell anyone in authority about it, and I thought I was pretty smart to have cracked the code.

I still use the "back of the book" often: when I want to find information, I go to a book's index. When I find a book without an index, finding the "answer" I need is very difficult. Sometimes I just give up and go to another source.

Every semester I notice that a student or two spends a great deal of class time copying definitions from the glossary in the back of the text book (the 5th edition of Listening to Music by Craig Wright). I let them use their notes for the final exam, which is a listening-only final, so some students figure that all they need to know is in the back of the book. Some think that using their class time to do this is time well spent (even though they miss most of what I'm trying to teach them). Before exams I see too many students studying those glossary pages. I tell them at the beginning of the semester not to do this, but they are drawn to the glossary like hawks to carrion.

I make study guides for exams available at the very beginning of the "unit" that we are studying. I even have a blog page where I put supplementary material and offer links to articles to clarify what we cover in class. Many don't bother to use the blog page. I suppose that the students think that the true "authority" is the 10-page glossary in the back of their textbook, with definitions that the can memorize (outside of any context) without understanding much of anything. It seems that the more students rely on their glossary, the worse they do on exams. The latest exam proves it in spades, bruises, and gum wrappers swirling in the wind that this method of studying just doesn't work.

My solution would be to integrate the glossary with the index. If you are listening, Dr. Wright, please consider this request.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Half of life is just showing up is simply half-assed

I sometimes get frustrated with students. They seem to have taken the conventional mid 20th-century statement that "half of life is just showing up" to heart, body, and soul. Just showing up for a class and not paying attention is pretty much the same as not showing up at all, even if it is a music class. Hearing music without listening to it will leave you with the vague memory that you just heard something. Listening without "hearing" everything is far preferable to hearing without listening. At least listening without "hearing" everything (with music it is often difficult to hear everything that is to be heard) demonstrates some kind of involvement in the task at hand.

I did a google search for "half of life is just showing up" (in quotes) and came up with 240,000 instances of it on line. This post will make 240,001. As far as I can tell, it is considered "conventional wisdom." I think it is conventional bunk.

It is attributed to Woody Allen, who I would like to imagine said it ironically, just as "She had style, she had flair, SHE WAS THERE, that's how she became the Nanny" is meant to be funny. The last two decades of the 20th century seems to have spawned a generation of college students who believe that the most useful thing that they can do is to show up for class. They don't have be prepared, they don't have to engage in discussions, or (God forbid) ask questions. They feel that it is adequate to register themselves as physically present, hauling half their asses to classes, and leaving their attention somewhere else.

Imagine if teachers and professors simply showed up, and felt fine about putting in half the effort of teaching, grading half of their students' papers, covering half of the material of the course.

The Spirit of Business: The Enemy of Music?

Arthur Loesser discusses attitudes towards music in the Puritan England of the 16th century through the 18th century in Men, Women & Pianos:
I would say, the enemy of music was might loosely be called the spirit of business. One had better use the word in its pristine sense of busy-ness. It does not mean primarily the direct desire for gaining money, which is a feeling that animates the most dissolute of gamblers. Rather, it means a persistent, hour-to-hour, devoted, rational application to a progressive task, a self-denying, calculating dedication to a perpetually growing achievement--not necessarily a lofty one--a suffusion by the feeling that "we are here in life for a purpose." The life of purpose can readily be directed toward handicraft of commerce: its fruit then would be money. But the money that came from this steady, alert industry would not be a mere gratification of greed or opportunity for indulgence; it would rather be interpreted ethically, as the just and visible reward of good behavior. A man, for instance, who got rich and richer by making felt hats relentlessly and intelligently for eighteen hours a day for forty years could then fix a self-satisfied gaze upon his wealth as the sign of God's approval of his intelligent relentlessness. It is clear that, to a mind of this set, music or any other fine art must be a thing of doubtful worth. The time spent in acquiring skill on an instrument is a "waste of golden hours." Music in itself may do no harm, but overfondness for it might lead a young man to spend too much time in taverns where he might overdrink, or in theatres where he might associate with loose women: all that would distract him from his busyness.

Loesser is, of course, talking about men here. Women (at least of a certain class) could devote their time to playing without compromising their usefulness.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Thought for the Day: Immanuel Kant on Genius

Genius is an aptitude to produce something for which no definite rule can be postulated; it is not a capacity or skill for something that can be learnt from some rule or other. Its prime quality, then, must be originality . . . . The aptitude cannot of itself describe how it creates its products, or demonstrate the process theoretically, though it provides the rules by itself being a part of nature. Thus the progenitor of a work of art is indebted to his own genius and he does not himself know how the ideas for it came to him, not does it lie within his power to calculate them methodically or, should he so wish, to communicate them to others by means of principles that would enable others to create works of equal quality. It is through genius that nature prescribes the rules of art.
This is from Immanuel Kant's Kritik der Urteilskraft, published in Berlin in 1790. I found this passage, translated by Peter le Huray and James Day, quoted in Unfinished Music by Richard Kramer.

Here is the full passage in a translation by J.H. Bernard
Beautiful Art is the art of genius

Genius is the talent (or natural gift) which gives the rule to Art. Since talent, as the innate productive faculty of the artist, belongs itself to Nature, we may express the matter thus: Genius is the innate mental disposition (ingenium) through which Nature gives the rule to Art.

Whatever may be thought of this definition, whether it is merely arbitrary or whether it is adequate to the concept that we are accustomed to combine with the word genius (which is to be examined in the following paragraphs), we can prove already beforehand that according to the signification of the word here adopted, beautiful arts must necessarily be considered as arts of genius.

For every art presupposes rules by means of which in the first instance a product, if it is to be called artistic, is represented as possible. But the concept of beautiful art does not permit the judgement upon the beauty of a product to be derived from any rule, which has a concept as its determining ground, and therefore has at its basis a concept of the way in which the product is possible. Therefore, beautiful art cannot itself devise the rule according to which it can bring about its product. But since at the same time a product can never be called Art without some precedent rule, Nature in the subject must (by the harmony of its faculties) give the rule to Art; i.e. beautiful Art is only possible as a product of Genius.

We thus see (1) that genius is a talent for producing that for which no definite rule can be given; it is not a mere aptitude for what can be learnt by a rule. Hence originality must be its first property. (2) But since it also can produce original nonsense, its products must be models, i.e. exemplary; and they consequently ought not to spring from imitation, but must serve as a standard or rule of judgement for others. (3) It cannot describe or indicate scientifically how it brings about its products, but it gives the rule just as nature does. Hence the author of a product for which he is indebted to his genius does not himself know how he has come by his Ideas; and he has not the power to devise the like at pleasure or in accordance with a plan, and to communicate it to others in precepts that will enable them to produce similar products. (Hence it is probable that the word genius is derived from genius, that peculiar guiding and guardian spirit given to a man at his birth, from whose suggestion these original Ideas proceed.) (4) Nature by the medium of genius does not prescribe rules to Science, but to Art; and to it only in so far as it is to be beautiful Art.
You can read all of Berhard's 1914 translation of the Critique of Judgement on line!

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Yamaha Recall

This important notice has been floating around the internet, and I just wanted to make sure that readers of this blog get the message.
Yamaha has recalled 20,000 pianos due to a problem with the pedal sticking, causing pianists to play faster than they normally would, resulting in a dangerous number of accidentals. The sticky pedal also makes it harder for jazz pianists to come to a full stop at the end of a piece making it extremely risky for audiences.
We can all thank my friend Sharry for sending this my way.

And we can thank Bernie Zaslav for forwarding me this lively (albeit pun-ridden) continuation today (March 21):
Although there have been a tremendous number of accidentals, fortunately it has so far caused no deafs. Analysts are wondering if it will put a damper on their bass market and if they will be able to sustain sales. Congress is also considering calling in the President of Yamaha for questioning as to when the company first learned about the treble.

Here's an update on that Yamaha piano recall: Congressional inquiries brought a sharp response from president Mitsuru Umemura of Yamaha, who quickly played down the scale of the problem before taking the fifth. "Only a few modal years are affected by what is a relative minor problem," he replied tiercely. With no progression towards a resolution, sales of Yamaha pianos have gone flat, and market analysts predict an interval of diminished revenue for the company. The
president announced that Yamaha would triadvertising more and fine tune their marketing strategies in order to augment sales.
N.B. I take no credit (or blame) for these puns, and neither does Bernie. "Tierce" is another word for the interval of the third. "Triadvertising" is a stretch, but there is no way to truly hyphenate it so that the "triad" part of the word stands out.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Corey Cerovsek, Josef Gingold, and Yehudi Menuhin

This film clip begins with Cerovsek riding a bicycle in Bloomington, Indiana (again, shades of "Breaking Away"), makes a jaunt up to Canada for a rehearsal of the Bach Double with Yehudi Menuhin, and then brings us back to Bloomington for a bit of the Bach Double with Cerovsek and his teacher Josef Gingold. At the very end we see a photo of Menuhin as a young man sitting on a bicycle, and then we get an extraordinarily insightful statement from him (at the age of 76) about childhood in relation to music. The larger film ends with a performance of the Bach Double with Cerovsek and Menuhin.

This post is inspired from a conversation I'm having with my friend Martha who has the delightful opportunity to play a concert with Cerovsek in Bloomington tomorrow.

RIP the string program that gave us Joshua Bell

The Monroe County school district (that's Bloomington, Indiana, to the outside world) has figured out a way to save the district $20,000 per year: deprive 150 elementary school students of the opportunity to have a string program in school. Joshua Bell began playing violin in that string program. I seem to remember that Joshua Bell's mother, Shirley Bell, had something to do with the success of that program. The program certainly had something to do with the success of her son. Here's the article.

$20,000 a year looks like the part-time salary of one person (certainly doing full-time work). The school district has also eliminated their school librarians.

My son Ben mentioned reading Book Eight of Aristotle's Politics. Perhaps this might be a good moment to consider what Aristotle had to say (scroll down to Part III) about the value of music education in a civilized state.

It is like "Breaking Away" all over again, but the cutters are now the budget cutters, making an even more striking contrast between "town" and "gown" in university-town America.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

What does "minuet" actually mean?

I have taught minuets to scads of students--far too many to count, but today, for the first time, one of my students actually asked me why these things are called minuets. The Question of why a minuet was called a minuet never dawned on me, so I looked it up.

The name comes from the small, dainty step (mini steps, if you will). You can see those mini steps here. I also learned that "menuetto" is not a word, even though Beethoven used it once in a while. While I was at it, I looked up "gavotte." The name of this dance comes from Pays de Gap where the inhabitants were known as "gavots." Pays de Gap was located in the former province of Dauphiné, where, it seems, skiing has taken the place of dancing.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Karl Richter: A Great Argument for Playing Bach on Modern Instruments

Richter's recordings, made before people began to question the validity of playing Bach on modern instruments, were my introduction Bach. Here's a really good example of the way Bach's music transcends time, trends, instruments, and media.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

It's Such a Good Feeling

Did you know that the introduction to "the neighborhood" is inspired by Beethoven? Michael just sent me this video of Johnny Costa that I just have to share!

Good News for Memphis

I just learned that Mei-Ann Chen has been named as music director of the Memphis Symphony. This news led me to look at the Memphis Symphony web page, where I found this page of videos. The first video, where the orchestra, with its new conductor, plays a piece of "city music" by an unnamed composer (who really should be given some credit), demonstrates the relationship that the Memphis Symphony has to the revitalization of the city as a whole. The video gives the impression that there is good will between the people in charge of the infrastructure of the city and the people who contribute to its culture.

Much to my surprise, the featured video for February has music written by my brother (and it sounds like it's also him playing), who is a member of the Memphis Symphony's viola section (yes, he's a violist-composer like me, but he did both before I started doing either one).

It is a novel idea to commission background music from members of the local symphony orchestra for films that showcase local businesses. It is so much better than using generic background music. Marshall's musical response to writing music for this Australian-owned dog-grooming business is in the (highly appropriate, I believe) form of a fantasy on "Waltzing Mathilda."

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Dichterliebe (a song cycle about love)

Maybe Robert Schumann's Dicterliebe is my favorite song cycle because the material, both musical and literary, is something that every singer (and every pianist) can relate in a deeply personal way. I love (and know every nook and cranny of) both Wunderlich-Giesen recordings, but I also love this totally different interpretation by Hermann Prey and Leonard Hokansen that I discovered today on YouTube, and want to share here with you. Here are links to translations (in many languages) of the poetry by Heinrich Heine. You can see (and follow) Clara Schumann's edition of the score here.




Friday, February 12, 2010

Take Me Back to Old Vienna: Putting the Class Back in Classical Music

Solo sonatas, nowadays such an important element in all piano programs, were not regarded as suitable for concert presentation until toward the end of the 1830s; they were looked upon as chamber music, to be enjoyed, if possible, at one of the "private academies." . . . . It may sound strange, but only one of Beethoven's piano sonatas was ever played in a Vienna concert during his lifetime. What that means is that in Vienna music in private homes still far overshadowed public concerts in importance and extent until the nineteenth century was fully one third gone.
from Arthur Loesser's Men, Women & Pianos

With my tongue sometimes implanted in my cheek, I thought of a politically incorrect (and politically impossible, since we live in a democracy) solution to the problem of increasing the audience for music, increasing the employment of musicians, and increasing the regular and consistent incorporation of new music into the repertoire.

Perhaps, if we want to improve the outlook for professional music making, we should cultivate the old-school social machine that made it possible for some of the greatest musicians in history to write music of exceptional quality and have it performed for people who could truly appreciate it.

1. Stop trying to look for audiences among the lower classes. Cultivate a love for chamber music among the super rich. Persuade them (or use social pressure on them) to buy and maintain excellent pianos in their homes, and invite guests to come to hear concerts (some with newly-composed music). Publicize the practice among the really rich, making it the "new thing" for people with money to do. Make a Medici-style fuss about how the musical environment of someone's home reflects their overall status in high society. A mansion can certainly be constructed to house a small concert hall. Think of Mrs. Gardner.

2. Stop equating "supporting the arts" with "giving to charity." Develop the mindset that surrounding yourself with great art is your privilege as a member of your class, and a privilege that you can afford (or, rather, can't afford not to have and keep your social standing). Having music in your home is a status symbol. What you serve as music in your home is equal to what you serve your guests at a dinner party. Everything you serve, after all, reflects on you. Even if you don't know anything about music (or art, or literature), surround yourself with people who do, and they will respect you. You might even get something out of it (even if it is only a cultured future spouse) after a certain amount of exposure.

3. Treat musicians like valued servants. Perhaps, along with the butler, maid, and chauffeur, you could add a "maestro" to your household staff, or better still, hire a servant who is also a musician.
Wanted, for a house of the gentry, a manservant who knows how to play the violin well and to accompany difficult clavier sonatas (an ad in the 1789 Wiener Zeitung found in Men, Women & Pianos)
4. Commission music that could not be be heard anywhere except in your home. Eliminate issues of copyright by making the employer the owner of all rights to music written in his or her employ (but certainly pay the composer and performing musicians for the performance). After a certain amount of time (to be agreed upon by the employer and employee) pay the employee a one-time fee for the music, and send it out into the public domain, as a gift to the world from the employer.

5. Ban recording devices from in-home concerts: what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas. Still, invite members of the press to write about the concerts, making it very clear that the quality of music heard there is something to be highly desired, and, perhaps, since it is inaccessible to people outside of the highest levels of the upper class, will be imitated by people who move in "lesser" circles, but with enough money to hold concerts in their homes.

6. Create a firm distinction between the professional musician and the amateur musician. An amateur does not play for money--only for pleasure. S/he doesn't have to act as a servant to anyone, and can be of any class. A professional rarely rises into the level of the employing upper class unless he or she marries into it (which can happen), or has some kind of economic windfall. If that happens s/he is duty-bound, like any other member of the upper class, to hire musicians to play in his or her home. The former professional then becomes an amateur, and if all goes well, other members of the upper class will aspire to play at his or her level, and perhaps with his or her hired professional musicians.

7. Hire professional musicians to teach your children and to write music for them to play. The musical aspirations of your upper-class children should be amateur and not professional (though it has been known to happen that a highly-trained member of the upper class might desire the lower social status of a professional). Your childrens' progress as musicians should be documented and remarked upon by members of the group of newly-resuscitated music critics who are allowed into private house concerts, and are employed by every on-line publication.

8. Use musical leverage to create alliances. Use musicians and musical occasions to celebrate peace. Hire composers to write operas for big family functions, like weddings. Let everyone in the world know about it.

As the upper class (our current class of multi-millionaires) demonstrates a new-found way to define, refine, and improve themselves through this new (old) form of musical activity and involvement, the middle class will want to have this kind of experience as well. (Trickle down economics, as it were.) The middle class would try their hand at house concerts, or they might think of attending public concerts. Eventually (it might take a generation or two) the demands of the middle class would increase the number of concerts. People would want to write about them.


(Now I take my tongue out of my cheek and throw the pie in the sky.)

With the rise of this more culturally-informed generation, colleges and universities would gear their curricula to help students engage knowingly in the new culture. Students eager to be involved in the "newest thing" might embrace courses aimed at teaching them to be active listeners or active performers (with, of course, the ultimate aspiration to become an amateur or a post-professional amateur). They might even find an interest in literature, and they might realize that the best way to get accepted into higher and higher echelons of society would be through their understanding and love of literature, and through their ability to communicate effectively (and even beautifully) through writing. They might find cultural value in all of the applied arts, sciences, and the humanities to complement the values that they find in music.

Recorded music would eventually be thought of as an impression of a musical event (even an engineered one) rather than as music itself. As the object status of the recording fades (into electronic downloads), so too will its ultimate value as a satisfying system for delivering music to people who want to hear it. Perhaps young people will tire of the isolation of i-pod-based listening, and they will crave the communal listening experience of the concert, recognizing that it is the best and most satisfying system of musical "delivery."

Men, Women & Pianos: A Social History


When I was little I used to admire the cover of Arthur Loesser's book, which was on a high shelf on my father's bookshelf.

Years later I found it (on a lower shelf, and without a dust cover) in a library, and I found it to be the most entertaining, most interesting, most engaging look at musical history this side of van Loon. I told my father about finally reading (and loving) the book I had seen on his bookshelf, and he told me that he knew Arthur Loesser in Cleveland.

Arthur Loesser was the half brother of Frank Loesser, the highly-acclaimed composer of the music for Guys and Dolls (and of many other fantastic shows). Guys and Dolls opened on Broadway in 1950, and Arthur's Men, Women & Pianos was published for the first time by Simon and Schuster in 1954. It dawned on me that there might be some kind of a family resemblance in the titles.

I now own my own copy of the book (a first edition, no less, with a different cover from the one pictured on Google Books), and am issuing a warning that many of my future blogposts will take their inspiration from it. Recent scholarship has debunked many of Loesser's ideas, but a lot of recent scholarship has also managed to wring the vibrant life out of centuries of musical life.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Looking at (or Ranting about) the Relative Popularity of Classical Music

I admit that I have been letting the discussions on line concerning the aging audience for classical music bother me. I think that some of the people who spend their time trying to believe that music really and truly fits into a consumer business model need to understand that the ticket-buying audience for classical music, at least in America, has always been small relative to the general population.

It isn't really possible to measure how many people listen to classical music on the radio, and it certainly isn't possible to measure how many of the people exposed to broadcast classical music (in coffee shops, in the Port Authority, in book stores) actually listen to what they are hearing. It is possible to measure CD sales, but it isn't possible to measure how often a person listens to a recording, or with what degree of attention. Most people (like me) who have some kind of CD library or record library (or access to one) listen to recordings that might have been made years ago.

It is possible to measure ticket sales, and in cities it is possible to believe that people will go to concerts if they are advertised properly. Advertising costs money, and I suppose the expenditure of money can only be justified by selling enough tickets to cover the costs. Some people believe that failure to attract an audience must have something to do with not giving the potential audience what it wants in a format that makes them want to have it again, so they try to change the way it is presented. That's the way you sell stuff. That's the way you run a restaurant.

I think that music is different, and I think that more of the people who understand it is different have always been people who have gone to concerts for the joy of going to concerts. I don't think of members of a given audience (or a desired audience) as customers. They are people who take the time to enjoy the experience of hearing music in real time and in real space. They are people who would rather brave cold weather and traffic to hear music than sit in front of the television and watch insipid game shows (shows that determine whether you are as smart as a 5th grader or test if you can endure extreme pain in complete silence). You can bet that the TV game show audiences are huge, and, relatively speaking, the concert audience is small. Tiny actually.

Do you think that there is any way to get those game show watchers to go to an orchestra concert? I don't think so.

The audience for classical music has always been tiny compared to the population at large, and for as long as I can remember it has always been primarily made of older people. It does take a few trips around the block and into a concert hall or two to find out that there is substance in a good deal of classical music. Some people don't get around to realizing that classical music isn't stuffy, isn't boring, isn't necessarily old, and isn't all the same until they reach the half-way point in their lives. Lucky people learn this earlier, and unlucky people never learn.

It would be easy to say that back when there were vibrant music programs in the public schools, everything was OK, but I don't think it is true. I had a great music program in my school system, and only a relative handful of students cared about it at all. The audience for classical music is self selecting. The people who want it will seek it out, and the people who don't want it will find other ways of spending their time, attention, and money.

It is the same way with literature. People who enjoy reading at a young age will continue to enjoy it when they get older. Some people don't realize that they even like to read until they are well into their adulthood. Other people will never understand why a person would read a novel or see a play when they could just as easily see "the movie." Unfortunately it seems that most people, at least in America, would prefer to watch a game show than go to a concert or read a book. That is not the fault of the way a concert is presented or a book is printed. It is the fault of a superficial television-based culture that offers an easy way to stay the mind without actually making any kind of intellectual investment. (Of course there are good programs on television, but I'm not talking about those, obviously.)

Classical music is not going to die. I don't think that musicians are going to stop playing and writing music just because it is no longer possible to make a living at it.

I firmly believe that music is not a "market." I believe that it is an life-enhancing act to play, practice, listen to, teach about, and write music, and as long as we do all of the above (play, practice, listen teach, and write) it will continue to exist. Music means everything to me, and I feel happy when I can share my love for music (in general or in specific) with other people, even if it is only a handful of people in their 70s and 80s. Let's just keep playing the music well enough so that an older audience (those who buy tickets as well as those who go to free concerts) with high expectations will not be disappointed.

Tuesday, February 09, 2010

Frank Oteri's Vintage Whine

Like Frank, I'm clueless about sports (just ask my husband), which is probably why I find his comparison of the cult of sports with the cult of classical music spot on.

Bottling wine was one of the greatest things that ever happened to civilization. The ultimate result of canning classical music is complicated. We all benefit from having access to it whenever and wherever we want to listen, but, as the culture changes, the cultural significance of classical music relative to the population seems to decrease the chances for anyone to make classical music (either by way of performance or composition) their livelihood.

Maybe that's why Noah planted a vineyard instead of starting an orchestra.

Lemonade from the Bakery



While listening to a recording made by a flutist who had been a student of one of Julius Baker's students, I recognized a mannerism that I always associate with Julius Baker. I call it "Lemonade from the Bakery." It involves taking a passage or musical figure that is awkward, either technically or musically, and, rather than minimizing its existence, highlighting it in some way. Julius Baker would often change color on or elongate a particularly offensive note, making a potential musical lemon sound rather sweet (whether it was in good taste or not). He never, of course, dictated this by using words, but all of his students imitated this strategically-applied musical mannerism, and many of them seem to be passing it to their students.

Saturday, February 06, 2010

Photos of Edvard Grieg and His Family


There are many more photos from the Bergen Public Library. Here's the Grieg Collection, and here's the Ole Bull Collection.

How to Build a Better Bow Arm

PDF files for all five volumes of Otakar Ševčík's School of Bowing Technique are available for free (for both violin and cello). When it comes to building a bow arm, you just can't beat Ševčík!

The Road to Success Before They Built the Information Super Highway


I found this at Strange Maps. It is seriously worth more than a light ponder. I still think the "road to success" is pretty much the same road as this one "built" in the 19th century (notice that there aren't any cars) with pretty much the same obstacles.

Friday, February 05, 2010

Fund Raising Fun

I remember when the Boston Symphony Orchestra held its yearly fund-raising "marathon." Now, in retrospect, I realize that the use of the word "marathon" probably had some relation to the famous yearly running event held in that city, but the BSO marathon had nothing to do with running. It had a little to do with music: our family was featured as one of the "premiums" for a few years: a concert by the "Famous Fine Family of Fiddlers and Flutists." I kid you not. My father, brother, and I played many a Beethoven Serenade for the benefit of the orchestra.

Most of the "premiums" were not musical though. For a certain amount of money you could take a plane ride with one of the many BSO pilots, have a dinner cooked by many of the BSO chefs, and do all sorts of nifty social things that allowed you to hobnob in a purposeful way with the people you heard play concerts in Symphony Hall. Smaller amounts of money got you tote bags and other manufactured (and usually donated) merchandise.

My friend Martha just told me about a truly musically-specific fund raising idea from the other BSO--the one in Baltimore. They offer a week-long orchestral workshop in June, where they divide the orchestra in half (making two orchestras), and fill the other half of each orchestra with musicians who would like to have the experience of rehearsing and performing with the Baltimore Symphony. The repertoire is difficult (Pines of Rome and Also Sprach Zarathustra), so only musicians who would be able to play the parts would apply. They clearly are not looking to work with students (you have to be 22 or over to participate): they are looking for amateur adult musicians from all over the country (or perhaps the world) who have the desire and the money to take a musical vacation in Baltimore. Assistant conductors will share the rehearsals with Marin Alsop, but I imagine that she will be conducting the concert, which will certainly be a great experience for everyone participating. For an additional fee you can have your chamber ensemble coached by one of the orchestra-member faculty members, for a bit more you get to play chamber music with a faculty member, and for an even more additional fee you get to perform in a chamber music concert with them.

I hope that this academy is truly successful for the participants and for the orchestra.

Thursday, February 04, 2010

Bryn Terfel's Wardrobe Woes

How did I ever miss this back in April?

Wednesday, February 03, 2010

Thomas Watson Speaks!

The true story surrounding the invention of the telephone from the "horse's mouth" via Edison disc.

You can hear much more at the Edison Archive. (Thanks to Steve Layton for pointing me--and now you--to the site.)

Tuesday, February 02, 2010

Colloquial Classics: an Oxymoron?

I grew up going to concerts where there was a set protocol. I loved the protocol, and I still love it when I have the opportunity of experiencing it. I feel safe knowing that I can arrive early, pick up a program, read through the program notes, and enjoy the din of people around me doing the same. The actual location doesn't matter: whether the hall is large or small, American or not American, free to the public or expensive, new music or old, the protocol was always the same when I was growing up.

Through my whole childhood and much of my adulthood the concert would begin when the house lights went down and the stage lights went up. I would savor that moment of expectation between audience din and audience quiet that would be broken by applause for the musicians, and then the music. For me there is a separation of the secular and the sacred in these moments. It is the separation of the everyday world and the world of music.

I think of applause a collective way of "playing" back to the musicians. At the same time it serves as a marker between one piece and the next. The occasion between-movement clapping that happens from time to time is something I try best to ignore (and the clapper, I hope, tries best to forget).

I'm speaking in the present tense, because this kind of thing still happens once in a while. It is just happening less and less. Perhaps it is due to cell phones, but smart audiences know by now that they should turn their cell phone ringers off before the beginning of a concert. Signs or reminders in the printed program could accomplish the task of reminding people.

I went to a concert recently where the concert organizer came on stage (to the applause of the audience), introduced himself only by first name, told the audience about the series and how they could contribute to it financially, and how in times when other arts organizations are contracting, this one is expanding.

He asked audience members to turn off their cell phones (and there was a person in the audience who wasn't listening), and told them not to text during the concert. Then he asked the members of the audience to introduce themselves to the people on either side of them by first name. I was lucky. I already knew all my seat neighbors by first name, so I didn't need to participate. I heard people say things like "just like in church." Everybody was jolly. The concert organizer introduced the musicians by first name, and the concert finally began (after ten minutes of talking).

People clapped when the musicians entered. The musicians talked to the audience. Their rapport was fine: they were quite charming and entertaining, actually, but as an audience member I was there to listen to music, not to be entertained. They also addressed the audience (as did the concert organizer) as a collection of novices--people who they imagined had never been to a classical music concert before.

The audience, by the way, was not a collection of novices. I hope that the colloquial nature of this series doesn't insult other regular concert-goers and keep them from going to concerts in the future.

There were no program notes. I love having program notes to read before the concert and after the concert. Perhaps program notes would be considered too stuffy. People also clapped between every single movement of every single piece. I imagine the the non-novices in the audience were bothered by this.

The playing was fine, but the overall experience was far too colloquial for my fuddy-duddy tastes. What would have been a 70-minute program took two hours (there was a 15-minute intermission).

Call me a snob, but I prefer formality in my concerts, whether I am a member of the audience or a member of the performing ensemble.

Monday, February 01, 2010

Margaret Brouwer

I only recently learned about Margaret Brouwer from a blog reader who lives in Texas. He wrote to me after hearing the premiere of her viola concerto.

In this interview with Margaret Brouwer, which is interesting all the way through, she discuses the difference between anger and assertiveness in her 21st century music. I really appreciate her no-nonsense approach to writing, and I appreciate her application of "classic" atonality into her music without needing to be intellectual about it.