Monday, September 30, 2013

Happy Anniversary, Michael

After being married for 29 years to the person the blogosphere knows as Mr. Orange Crate Art, I'm happy to say that we also keep one another entertained at home (i.e. in real life).

His glasses may be fogged, but mine are not. Life is great in our little house in our little town, and we are still very, very happy together.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Marcel Tabuteau Interview

The last part of this video has an interview with Marcel Tabuteau. By demonstration he makes the case that musicianship has everything to do with personality, while stating that his method of teaching makes music into a disciplined intellectual activity rather than one of feelings (because there are days when you might not feel that good). Clearly his cup ran over with an abundance of both.

Friday, September 27, 2013

White, Tye, and Tallis

Next Sunday, October 6th at 2:00 the Eastern Illinois University Collegium Consort will play a concert of English Renassance music at the Wesley Methodist Church on South Fourth Street in Charleston, Illinois. We're playing the concert to honor the 90th birthday of Robert W. Weidner, the scholar who transcribed the music into modern notation. Dr. Weidner spent his career teaching music history at Eastern Illinois University, and people around the world have benefited from his work making instrumental music of the English Renaissance accessible.

Here's a sample from "Sit Fast" by Christopher Tye in the original notation (the three parts are notated separately):

and here's a complicated section from the above manuscript in modern score notation:

We will also be playing several instrumental pieces that use the "In Nomine" section of a mass by John Taverner as a cantus firmus. One is by Taverner himself, and the rest are by Christopher Tye, Robert White, Alfonso Ferrabosco, and Thomas Tallis.

Dr. Weidner came to our rehearsal today, and he described one of the cadences as "very handsome." I like that. A handsome cadence.

Rosemary Buck, Elaine Fine, Peter Hesterman, Charles Hughes, Jeri Matteson-Hughes, Ruth Riegel, and I will be playing various recorders and stringed instruments, dulcian, sackbut, and crummhorns.

The concert is sponsored by the Coles County Arts Council, and admission is free.

New Music for Clarinet and Viola

Here's a brand new set of pieces I wrote for clarinet and viola (three character pieces and one transcription, to be exact) that I just put in the IMSLP. One character piece is modal, one is 12-tone (with only three deviations from strict "by-the-book" 12-tone writing), and one is pure Marxian (as in the Marx Brothers). The piece is dedicated to my violist friend Lydia Tang and our composer friend Peter Michalove.

The transcription is of the Haydn Trio I wrote about last week.

You can see the music here, and listen to a computer-generated recording here.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Cheap and Easy Music Binding

Spiral binding is fine, and it is often quite useful, but sometimes I want to have music that can lie flat. Sometimes I have scores that require paper that is too big for my comb binding machine. I tried my luck with masking tape, but cloth athletic tape, which has the forgiving quality of being removable (if necessary), is the perfect solution.

You can use it to repair books too.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Gens and Such: A Ramble about Gunther Schuller

I remember learning about the word "Gens" from a History course I took in high school. Our teacher, Dr. Burnham, who became a full-time poet after he retired, told us that the point of the "Gens" was to propagate a Genius. All my etymological sources tell me this isn't true, but until now I always considered Dr. Burnham's speculation to be correct. I loved studying history, and if I didn't go through my young life with the belief that I would go into music as a profession, I probably would have gone to a real college (Juilliard was a conservatory) and would have studied history and/or geography.

Towards the end of Gunther Schuller's talk last Wednesday, he mentioned that he was a ninth-generation musician, and that contributed to his success as a composer (success meaning the ability to come up with ideas and write music that pleases him). It occurred to me that, taking his German relatives into consideration, his genius (and it is genius) could very easily be traced to the multiplicity of composers of the Baroque period in Germany. If a generation is 33 years, the first professional musician in his lineage would have been around in 1716. By the Burnham "Gens" principle, he could be the "Genius."

Schuller spent much of his childhood at a boarding school in Germany (studying all his subjects in German), and his English does have a slight German tinge to it. He loves organization, which is one reason he loves writing 12-tone music. He still writes his very interesting (and singular) mixture of 12-tone music and jazz, and has been generating it from the same row he's used since 1976.

I mentioned something about his memoir before he began his talk. He told me that he included all the names of the people he worked with in his index. I told him that I read a review copy (without an index), and was thinking that this book would have one hell of an index. I told him about getting a professional indexer to do the index for Bernie Zaslav's memoir. His response was "I did it myself. I love indexing." There you have it: a great organized mind doing what it likes best.

I have also been thinking about the statement Gunther Schuller made about hating the word "interpret" and loving the word "realize" when it comes to playing music. After thinking about it for a while, and after thinking about his music, I understand his viewpoint. I also know that it is the polar opposite of mine. I love the idea of leaving the ultimate meaning to something I write to the people playing it. I actually absolve myself of "ownership" once a piece is completed, and I love the fact that it could be played in many different ways by many different people, while still following all the pitches, phrase markings, articulations, and dynamic markings.

I imagine that Schuller's musical brain works a little bit like the brain of Arnold Schoenberg (though his personality is quite different), which brings to mind the first post I put on this blog, which I called "Reconsidering Perfection." Both composers have ways of thinking that I find fascinating, and both write music that I admire, but what I have for both composers is admiration rather than identification. In this vast world there is room for much more than one or two ways of thinking. Gunthur Schuller talked about his goal of melding the two "camps" of Schoenberg and Stravinsky in his music. Now, thanks to the many investigations by musicologists and the opening up of resources by way of the internet (the IMSLP, the Internet Archive, the Worldcat, YouTube, Wikipedia, music blogs, and Jstor), we know that there have always been far more than two "camps," and that there is room in this musical world for all sorts of musical expression.

I find it really interesting that Gunther Schuller became so attracted to Jazz, a medium that is built on improvisation, when he himself did not feel comfortable as an improvising musician. He sought out what was external to his experience and comfort, and he made a huge contribution to the work of Jazz musicians by doing what he was good at. I find it interesting that both his sons, the bass player Ed Schuller, and the drummer George Schuller are accomplished Jazz musicians. Like many of us, Gunther Schuller had children who were able to do something well that he was unable to do, like improvise.

I'm very proud that both of our children went to college, and am very proud that they both can do things that I could never do. (In addition to her many intellectual talents and her degree in linguistics, Rachel is an athlete, and she can sing confidently and beautifully. Ben can also sing confidently and beautifully. He as a degree in philosophy and is now teaching history--fulfilling, by almost coincidence, one of my personal unfulfilled dreams.)

Someone asked Mr. Schuller about the various kinds of music and various ways of writing music that are around today (it was a young crowd, and he was viewed very much, at almost 88, as a composer of the past, though he is a composer of the present because he's still writing). He said that he wasn't impressed by music that was generated mathematically, and he considered most minimalistic music repetitive, though he did mention that he liked Steve Reich's work.

After Gunther Schuller's talk, I was excited about trying my hand at 12-tone music again (I haven't used a tone row in years). I found a nifty row, put the pitches on an squared index card in the original order and in inversion, and then I generated rows from every chromatic step of the scale. I had a grand time playing with it, and I turned some of the music I found using the row into a piece for viola and clarinet. It is liberating to be able to escape from tonality for a while, but the very thought of only writing music generated from that row for the next 37 years feels stifling. Organized atonality is an interesting country to visit, but it's not a place where I feel at home.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Haydn Music of the Spheres

I have spent every day of this new academic year reading through Haydn's Piano Sonatas. It's been a wonderful experience (to make a huge understatement). Today I came across the amazing trio section of the Minuet from in his A major Piano Sonata Hob. XVI:12, and I thought I'd share it here.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Thank You Paul Berman

". . . The music asks you to engage. The music is an activity more than an entertainment, and you engage in it physically, you and your instrument and your fellow musicians. Or you can do without the fellow musicians. To play by yourself, alone in a room with a music stand, or without the music stand, is good enough. If you study Bach with sufficient ardor, instrument in hand, you ought to be able to discover that, at moments, you and Bach have merged. You ought to discover that Bach’s inquiries into mathematical figures are your own inquiries, and Bach’s ecstasies are yours, as well. Bach was a genius, and you, too, are a genius, when you perform his work—even if some person listening to you trample clumsily over the score may conclude that you are an oaf. Your purpose in playing is not to impress anyone else, though, nor to entertain. . . ."
". . . In the world of music, I dwell anywhere I want to dwell. Music has liberated me from the iron bars of our present moment"

This is part of Paul Berman's excellent response to Mark Oppenheimer's offensive article in the New Republic in which he explains why parents should not force their children to learn to play an instrument.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Food for Thought from Gunther Schuller

"I love the word realize. I hate the word interpretation" -- Gunther Schuller
I heard Gunther Schuller speak today in a classroom in the basement of the music building on the campus of the University of Illinois. I grew up revering him, and now I understand why.

[The above picture is a screen shot from this recent video. It just didn't seem right for me to ask to take a picture this afternoon. He was, however, wearing the same shirt.]

If it's Thursday it Must be Bach

I had a great time playing the C-major Bach Suite on the viola for a group of fourth graders a few weeks ago. It was part of a "school demonstration" I did as a favor for a friend. I talked with the kids about the fact that when I play for them, they become part of the music. I told them (and I was telling the truth) that the way they listened and followed the music had a lot to do with how I would play the music. I told them that because it was Bach, the music has infinite possibilities and can be realized in many ways. I goofed around a bit, making much of the cadences and false endings (and they applauded at the proper inappropriate times, and then laughed at themselves). A good time was had by all.

On Monday five members of our Collegium played a set of Renaissance consort pieces for a music appreciation class at the local college. We interacted a bit with the students, but for the most part, aside from polite (and sometimes enthusiastic) applause, it was clear that they didn't really know what to make of a group of living people playing old music for them.

My community college class tomorrow is our first class about Bach. I have decided to play some of the C-major Suite for my class, because my class deserves the same exposure to live music as that fourth grade class and my friend's music appreciation class. I also decided to play for them because I think that these 20-something-year-olds need to know the difference between hearing a live performance and a recorded one. They have gotten much of their music from square and rectangular boxes (some which hold disc-shaped objects) rather than from living and breathing human beings. They have also been deprived of a whole range of vibrations that microphones can't pick up. They may change, but the music they hear does not. A recording can't change, but a person can. This "self-oriented" generation tends to notice its personal changes in relation to the stagnant music it consumes. And that's any kind of music. They rarely get the opportunity to understand that a musical interpretation can be something "of the moment," and that the changes that happen to us through listening to music and playing music are things to reflect upon and celebrate.

Not all performances are given in ways that involve the audience (you can read a post I wrote six years ago ((six years ago!)) about "playing at and playing to" here), but the people participating in a performance by listening are always vitally important. I hope to get this across to my students tomorrow.

I have been pondering the differences between tomorrow's Bach and a concert:

1. The class is at 8:00 a.m., so I will not have had time to practice.
2. My attention will be divided between the material for the rest of the class and the act of playing.
3. It will be a surprise to the students (except the ones who might be reading this post).
4. I would NEVER play solo Bach in a concert. The more I learn about music, the higher my regard for Bach. I feel that the goal of any performance is to try to meet the composer half way. The more I grow as a player and as a musician, the more the distance between me and Bach grows. This ever-growing half way is already a journey of a lifetime.

Here are a few Bach posts from the Musical Assumptions archives:

My Daily Bach
Why Playing (or Practicing) a Piece is Like Taking a Walk
I Guess it Shows
Back to Bach
Lost Branches of the Bach Family Tree

Friday, September 13, 2013

Strings Attached

Strings Attached: One Tough Teacher and the Gift of Great Expectations
by Joanne Lipman and Melanie Kupchynsky
New York: Hyperion 324 Pages

This book is at once a portrait of the Kupchynsky family, a memoir about growing up and "coming of age" in New Jersey between the 1960s and the 1980s, and the story of a man who, deprived of a childhood, came to love music as a young adult, and gave his children and thousands of other children the opportunity to have music become a vital part of their lives.

Jerry Kupchynsky, or Mr. K., as he was called by his students, first fell in love with the sound of a violin at the age of 15. In 1946, at the age of 18, he came to America after having a very difficult life (to say the least) in the Ukraine, and went to study music (from scratch) with Roman Prydatkevitch, a fellow Ukrainian immigrant who taught at Murray State University in Kentucky. He studied violin and cello there, and then studied violin with Samuel Applebaum at Rutgers. He married a pianist who was also a choral conductor, and they had two children. Mr. K. made sure both of them began the violin as soon as they were big enough to play a quarter-sized instrument (in the pre-Suzuki days a 1/4 sized fiddle was the smallest one available). He gave his daughters lessons every evening after dinner.

Mr. K., who started teaching in a small orchestral program in East Brunswick, NJ in 1956, became the supervisor of music for the city in 1967. He conducted the orchestras in all the schools, and taught many of the string students privately. He gave tests to assess aptitude, and filled his students with a sense of "old-world" exoticism by yelling at them, and demoralizing them. But he balanced out his flights of temper with an overabundance of support and genuine affection. Such behavior from a school music teacher would never be tolerated in the 21st century.

Joanne Lipman studied viola with Mr. K., and she played in the East Brunswick school orchestras. She describes his conducting as erratic (at best), writes about his terrible sense of rhythm, and introduces him to us as the "meanest man" she ever met. There is no point where Melanie Kupchynsky, Jerry Kupchynsky's prodigious daughter, mentions the quality of her father's playing (which I imagine was never as high as her playing as a child). Both Joanne and Melanie describe Mr. K.'s method of teaching: he sat at the piano and forcefully encouraged his students (and daughters) to play the right notes in tune, and to play with good form and good technique. He took his daughters and his students through some rudimentary repertoire, and when they moved beyond his ability, he sent them to other teachers. His daughters went to Samuel Applebaum, and Joanne went to study viola with the ever gracious Paul Doktor.

Joanne Lipman and Melanie Kupchynsky went to school together, and they played in a string quartet along with Melanie's younger sister Stephanie. After many years away from one another, they collaborated on this memoir. The two friends were opposites: Melanie was a star violinist at a young age, and Lipman, who loved music and wanted to play, was considered untalented by her parents. Mr. K. noticed her desire, intelligence, and will, and after she got a good score on his aptitude test, he decided she would make a good violist. He was right. She also became an excellent writer, and is now one of the editors of the Wall Street Journal. After spending time in the Pittsburgh Symphony, and after taking 19 auditions, Melanie Kupchynsky joined the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. Both credit their success to having studied with Jerry Kupchynsky.

Some readers might take this book as an example of "tough love," and others might disagree loudly with Kupchynsky's teaching methods. My parents were more like Joanne's parents because they never insisted that I practice. I kind of envied my friends who had parents who did insist they practice, but my dedication to music came from within, and eventually I spent more time practicing than I probably should have. I find this look into the Kupchynsky household of the "spare-the-rod-and-spoil-the-child" mid 1960s at once fascinating and disturbing. The book offers an accurate account of a time of transition in public education and in culture in general (I was there and I remember). Some would say that it was a time of unregulated innocence, and some would say that it was a time of unregulated abuse and terror.

This is not a veneration, as so many portrait-memoirs are, and it is not a glimpse into a life of tremendous personal artistic accomplishment, talent, or genius. It is an honest and well-rounded picture of a person in the "trenches" (as some of us teaching music in the hinterlands refer to our task) of string teaching, where there is little in the way of glamour, but there is a lot of camaraderie, and there is a lot of hard work.

I imagine that Mr. K. will be compared with the "Tiger Mother," but Amy Chua wanted to give her daughters the kind of upbringing she had, and Jerry Kupchynsky wanted to give his daughters the kind of musical childhood he never had. He didn't have the example of a father (he grew up with a strong mother who kept her son from getting killed and saw that he made it through high school), and I doubt he had any kind teachers during what should have been his childhood. He served in the the Ukranian guerrilla army (fighting the Germans) as a teenager and in the U.S. Army in Korea early in his American experience, so Mr. Kupchynsky had models of military discipline to draw upon when attempting to get people to work together. And that's what he used with his students.

He made it clear to his daughters that he wanted them to be music teachers. He sent Melanie to the New England Conservatory where the music education students were treated as second class citizens. Melanie was a dutiful first-born daughter, and she wanted nothing more than to please her father, but she became a performance major. Stephanie was a rebellious second-born child, and she fought her father during every step of her adolescence, but she became a violin teacher when she grew up, and she used a far kinder and gentler method of teaching than the method her father used. The story of Stephanie is compelling. I will leave it to you to discover.

What attracts me most about Strings Attached is the quality of the writing, the organization of the book, the subject matter, and the honesty of the writers. Lipman and Kupchynsky alternate chapters, and they often tell the same story from different personal perspectives. This technique I usually associate with fiction works brilliantly here because it allows for an enticing mix of the subjective and objective. There is sure to be a lot of well-deserved discussion following the release of the book.

Strings Attached will be avialable on October 1, but you can pre-order it through Good Reads and Amazon.

Powerful Women

I don't know Diana Nyad or Serena Williams, but I have admired them both for a long time. Rachel, our daughter, I have admired from the second she was born, and she continues to inspire and amaze me.

I could complain (as I sometimes do) about how things are not the way they used to be. I could wallow in nostalgia, but since I have experienced this past half century (and some) as a woman, I can loudly proclaim that "now" is much preferable to "then." I spent a lot of last night looking through Lorenzo Hodges' photographs from the Crossfit "Pretty Gritty" competition (that this proud mother can say her daughter won the first prize in), and thought I'd share them here. (Please let me know if the link works if you are not a Facebook user.)

Before this "season," I was aware that Rachel got a lot out of doing Crossfit and participating in Crossfit-related activities, but now I understand just how important it is for her (and for all women) to be able to gain and display their physical and mental strengths proudly.

As much as I appreciate the Crossfit culture, I am content to confine my physical activity to practicing viola (which does take strength) and walking. I can put myself at a distance and laugh at what it meant to be "feminine" in previous decades, and love the whole idea of "pretty" and "gritty." I also love the fact that there seem to be a lot of men that support the efforts of the women who do Crossfit, and that these men admire women for their physical and mental strength, and the beauty that comes from having both.

Sometimes I do wonder what my life would be like if I were exactly the same person with exactly the same skills, strengths, and sensibilities, but I happened to be a man. In the world of music it probably would mean that I would have a great deal more professional success and recognition than I currently have. People would have taken me more seriously when I was younger. People (i.e. the male musical establishment) would probably take me more seriously as a composer and as a critic (which I am, by the way), and I probably would have been given more opportunities for gainful employment.

Oh well. I just go about my business (under-employed and under-respected as I often feel I am) and am very proud that my daughter is spending her young adulthood in a world where she has a greater shot at equality than I had.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Kol Nidre, Einmal Andres

I found a performance of my violin setting of Lewandowski's Kol Nidre on YouTube. The tempo indication is "Slowly, with a great deal of freedom," and the Daniel Mihai did just that in 2011, when he played it at a memorial service for Liana Alexandra in Bucharest. He added some pizzicato at the beginning, and some improvisation towards the end (if you know the chant, you'll be able to figure out where).

It's kind of amazing how differently Mihai plays it from the way I play it, and how special it is to have made a useful contribution to the music for the High Holidays (that can also be used for a memorial piece).

Help in the Plastic Age

Just imagine: a "roomba" for cleaning oceans! Perhaps this 19-year-old is not the most confident speaker, but he is brilliant. And he has an inspired solution.

"Why move through the oceans if the oceans can move through you?"

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Anachronistic Vertical Musical World View

I find this paragraph from Richard Taruskin's "A Sturdy Musical Bridge to the Twenty-first Century" interesting food for thought:
To composers imbued with a nineteenth-century worldview, artistic traditions are transmitted "vertically." Nineteenth-century music historiography is an epic narrative of text arranged in single file. It assumes that artists are primarily concerned--whether to emulate or to rebel--with the texts of their immediate precursors. These assumptions have led to an obsession with lines of stylistic influence, with stylistic pedigree, ultimately (and destructively) with stylistic purity or worse, progress. This is the altogether anachronistic view most classical composers still imbibe in college or conservatory.
[From a chapter about Steve Reich in The Danger of Music and Other Anti-Utopian Essays, published by University of California Press in 2009.]

Friday, September 06, 2013

Iron Composer

Fellow music blogger David Wolfson will be one of the five composers participating in the Iron Composer competition that is being held at Baldwin Wallace University in Cleveland. There's a concert this evening at 8:00 Cleveland time where the spoils of the competition will be performed and judged. Fortunately for those of us who do not live in Cleveland, the concert will be streamed through the WCLV 104.9 website.

It will be interesting to hear what the five composers who are given five hours to write a piece from scratch featuring a "secret ingredient" come up with.

Thursday, September 05, 2013

Music and Writing

It occurred to me while I was reading a stack of essays written by students I didn't know (as part of a course assessment) that there are a great number of students who don't "listen" to the sound of what they write. They let subject-verb agreement mistakes fall where they may, and they jump from subject to subject without much consideration for the sentences that might happen to share a paragraph (and that's when they bother to try to write in paragraphs at all).

My overtaxed and distracted mind began to travel back to when our children were young and first learning about language. They sang all the time. They sang the songs they heard on the television and on their records and tapes. They made up songs. Their friends did too. Singing helps kids to make sense out of the language that is all around them. Kids do it joyfully and willingly.

It seems that everyone sings in the early grades of elementary school, whether they are "interested" in music or not, but by the time kids get to middle school, singing is pretty much reserved for the people who choose to do it. Music class can be many things, and often it's not singing. The kids that didn't sing in middle school continue not to sing in high school. They certainly listen to music (and many understand the cultural significance of one "kind" of music or another), and some young people might even sing along with recordings, but that is an activity that a person (or a teenager) can do with half a mind. Writing well and singing songs by yourself or with friends are both activities that require lots of attention.

I wonder if the kids who continued to sing through middle school and high school are better writers in early adulthood than the kids who stopped singing? I wonder if anyone has attempted to do some kind of a study about this. I wonder if there might be a musical answer that would put an end to the low quality we see in college student writing?

The Ash Grove for Four Guitars

Here's my little homage to Haydn:

[If this doesn't play on a mobile device, you can listen here and use your imagination for the pictures of ash trees, and you can see the music here.]

Wednesday, September 04, 2013

Monday, September 02, 2013

Birthday Red Beans and Rice

Today is Michael's birthday, and for a special birthday treat I made (at his request) red beans and rice. I decided to make it with dried red beans rather than canned red beans, and what came out was extraordinary. I'm posting the recipe here to share (also at Michael's request), and also so I can find it easily when I want to make it again.

After soaking a cup (8 oz.) of red beans in water overnight, I cut up:

a red onion,
a green pepper,
three celery stalks,
and three cloves of garlic

I cooked them in a heavy saucepan in some olive oil until the onion no longer looked red (a white or yellow onion would work just as well).

Then I threw in 2 chopped canned chipotle peppers,
the drained soaked beans,
two bay leaves,
a teaspoon of oregano,
a teaspoon of sage,
a little bit of cayanne,
three cups of water,
and a tablespoon of Worcestershire sauce

and simmered everything (with a cover) for about 30 minutes.

I dissolved two teaspoons of "Better than Bouillon" soup base (I used the vegetable kind, but any kind will do) in a cup of water, and threw it in the pot (I always find that beans cook better if you cook them without salt for a while). I let it cook (with its cover) for an additional hour (while the short-grain brown rice cooked in another pot), and it was magical.

It's also cheap and healthy (important for musicians). If you double the recipe (which means you would use the whole bag of beans rather than half) it could last you all week.

Musical Organizations and Restaurants: A Ramble

Now that the public at large understands the problems that American orchestras have been battling during the past few years, it's time to trot out my restaurant analogy.

We live in a city that has difficulty sustaining any restaurants that are not chain-type fast food restaurants, Pizza restaurants, Mexican restaurants, or restaurants that are attached to bars. We do have one very good Thai restaurant (they serve Chinese food as well), which is really the only place I can get a decent vegan meal. When we arrived in town during the mid 1980s, there were a handful of pretty good "slow food" restaurants, but the only ones that have survived are the ones that serve food that appeals to the local tastes and to college students. That's the way it works.

The next town over (ten miles down the road) has a Chinese restaurant that has been open and running for the past thirty years. They served very good spicy Hunan food, and they had a menu that was typical for a "city" Chinese restaurant of the '80s. We went often during our child-raising years (the owner-waitress and I were even pregnant at the same time). During the 2000s the restaurant modified (i.e. "blanded") the menu and sprung a buffet (they were trying to appeal to the bland tastes and large appetites of the townspeople and the times), so we no longer went there to eat. The restaurant apparently thrived during those times (even without our business), and expanded. The area around the restaurant (sidewalks and parking lot) has been improved, and the front looks beautiful and inviting, but we never went because of memories of the buffet days.

We went (reluctantly) last week because it was a chosen meeting place for a group of people. It was a great surprise to find that the menu had changed, and that he food was wonderful. It was creative, tasty, and very well prepared. They even offered brown rice. We went again the other day, and we plan to keep going.

The buffet was gone. The restaurant owners might have decided that it is better to offer quality at a higher cost than quantity at a lower cost. Quantity restaurants abound in our area, but there are very few that offer quality.

There are times when people go to restaurants for convenience, but people usually go to restaurants to mark an occasion, to have a nice experience, to get away from routine, or to have a meal that they trust will be sensually stimulating. People go to concerts for entertainment, but they also go for nourishment. There are times when people want to listen to music while they are doing other things (like eating in a restaurant). That's what recorded music is for. (It's really too bad that live chamber music in restaurants is so rare these days, but I digress.)

When you take a seat in a restaurant you are in same "captive" state as when you take a seat in a concert hall. You look at the menu in a restaurant, you pick from what is offered, and you hope for the best. You are at the mercy of your hosts, at least for the next hour or so.

When you buy tickets and make the necessary arrangements (babysitting, travel, scheduling, company) to go to a concert, you are making a commitment and putting your trust in your "hosts." Sometimes you don't know what's on the "menu" for the evening, and sometimes you do. If it's something you've heard many times, you want the performance to give you a fresh perspective. If it's something you love, you want the performance to do justice to your expectations. If it's something new, you want to be interested and engaged.

Concert goers are usually most skeptical about "something new," but there are also concert goers who go specifically to hear music they have never heard before. Sometimes we rely on pedigree to set our expectations, but there are times when pedigree disappoints. Seasoned concert goers learn to put the experiences that disappoint into perspective, because they know just how rare greatness in music is. Novices are sensitive as well. They might not understand the relative rarity of truly great performances, but they can often tell when the musicians miss the mark.

Regardless of the quality of the food or the music, the price of admission is still the same for a given restaurant or performance. Musical organizations that try to appeal to the perceived "buffet" mentality of a musical audience will lose that audience if they don't offer something truly satisfying. I don't believe that people's interest in good music is fading, and I believe that we need live music more than ever in these highly-automated times, but the audience for the buffet is not the audience that will come back to order from the menu. Too many musical organizations "market" their music to the people who would (figuratively) come only for the buffet.

Every musical organization needs to make choices that take the concerns of their ideal audience into consideration, because the larger organizations set the tone for attitudes and trends, at least in America. "Classical Music" is nourishing for all people, but it is really not "fast-food" entertainment, and it shouldn't be treated as such. We also have to remember that it is the kitchen staff that does most of important work in a restaurant, and those people should be treated with respect and rewarded appropriately for their expertise. It's the same for the musicians who play in orchestras. Without musicians there would be no music, and we all have to eat.

Sunday, September 01, 2013


Isn't it interesting that the only composer to ever achieve sainthood was a woman? You can find some excellent recordings of her music here.