Memory lane: Was it good, bad or empty?

Each month I keep an eye on the conversations I’m having with people to find topics for my next #OrchChat – an hour of discussion on Twitter about orchestras. Usually the three topics of each chat are quite diverse but so far have somehow bled into each other. It’s really a fascinating hour.

Click here to read the transcript of January’s #OrchChat

Over the past couple of weeks there is one conversation that has cropped up several times from several sources, including the excellent & brief daily snippet of arts news You’ve Cott Mail, and I was just wondering about your experience in the arts. This topic just might be included in February’s #OrchChat (on the 12th at 6pm ET).

Were you in a youth orchestra, choir or musical?

Were you in a youth orchestra, choir or musical?

For example, when you were in school or even college, did you ever sing or play a musical instrument? Were you in a play or musical? Did you ever attend a school concert or show that a friend or sibling was in? What about in the community?

My point of barraging you with these questions is to find out what, if any, experience you had with music and the performing arts, especially whether or not you enjoyed it.

Are there any specific memories of good feelings or events that come to mind?

Have a think about it.

Then send me an email with your observations and experiences. If you feel like sharing, go global so all the world can learn: add a post to my Facebook page.

 

A day in the life of you…

Can you help me? I’m not sure what ‘being productive’ means anymore. Perhaps you can share your thoughts below.

Many times I’m asked “What do you actually DO?”

Today (yesterday, by the time this is published) I accomplished the following:

Shopped for a new suit, baked some cookies, had a lunch meeting and then an afternoon chat, kept up with most of my emails and social media, completed an online training and prepared the content of a new financial report schedule for my team, watched some audience development, volunteer and photography tips videos on Youtube, and read Ken Blanchard’s book “Full Steam Ahead.” Yes, you read that correctly: I read a book in one day. It happens.SPB Serena

Some of the blog posts I indulged in today were by Chris Guillebeau and Marie Forleo, and there were moments I actually sat to watch Hook and The Blind Side. My early afternoon 7 minute nap actually took 20 minutes today, and my 25 minute walk was only 15 because the hot wind made it impossible to walk at a decent pace and I got worn out very quickly – the sunburn probably didn’t help, either. (Thinks: maybe reasons for the longer than normal nap, too?)

As dinner is cleared from the table and dessert prepared, I hopped onto the computer to share a day in the life of me, and yet there is plenty more to come, at least another 4 or 6 hours’ worth.

I have no idea if this is a lot to accomplish, normal, or less than most people do. Can you help me? Outline in the comments below what a day in the life of YOU looks like, and I’ll be able to determine if I’m being productive or not. Thank you – I appreciate it.

We will all likely learn a thing or two from you, as well…

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Another Absolutely Best Of!

I’m working on some project documents and listening to Classic FM’s David Mellor (ex-Member of Parliament and even Cabinet member) enthusiastically share his top 20 classical music recordings of 2012 – both new and re-released. Sometimes it’s quite fascinating, especially Max Richter’s rewriting of Vivaldi’s famous Four Seasons violin concertos, two very different versions of Rachmaninoff’s beautiful Symphony No.2 even though the different albums won in different categories, and even Cole Porter’s “Let’s Do It” by Alexandre Tharaud. Yes, I’m just as confused as you. (Amazon affiliate links)

Top Ten List EVER?!Well, I’ve never been much of a fan of “Top” or “Best of” lists, even though it is clearly a marketing gem and seems to engage a great many people. (The fact that such programs can be prepared in advance so they can be aired during the holidays with no-one actually present at the radio or TV station isn’t lost on me.)

So, whilst wondering what gives David Mellor the right to pick and choose classical music recordings, and whether or not he’s just presenting someone else’s research/ compiled list (such as EMI, Sony, Virgin Classics, or any of Global Radio‘s other regular bed partners), I wondered what other lists are out there this year. I typed “Best of classical music 2012” into the centrally focused white box on the Google homepage which took a moment (0.44 seconds, to be a little more pedantic) to produce the results below.

And there we have it! These must truly be the absolute best of the best of classical music for 2012. Make of them what you will, and take particular note of the handful of references to live music (such as concerts). In fact, the exact opposite occurred – included in this “Best of” list are notable deaths! Can you and I change that? I think so. Maybe next year we can come up with our own “Best of 2013’s Classical Music” and make them ALL concerts!

My (or, in fact, Google’s) “Best of ‘Best of Classical Music 2012:'”

  1. 54th Annual Grammy Awards Nominees for Classical Music (2012)
  2. The Best Classical Music Recordings of 2012 – NYTimes.com
  3. The best classical music of 2012 | Music | The Guardian
  4. Amazon Hot New Releases: best Classical Music
  5. Classical Music and Opera: The Best of 2012
  6. 2012 in review: Notable deaths in classical music and dance
  7. Remembering the best classical music of 2012 – Times Union
  8. The Best in North Texas Classical Music in 2012 | FrontRow
  9. The Orchestra: The best classical music iPad app
  10. Best of 2012: Classical music | Mark Swed – latimes.com
  11. The Best and Worst of Classical Music in 2012 – WQXR
  12. best classical music songs
  13. best sad classical music
  14. best classical music for studying
  15. best classical guitar music

Do you agree with any of these? Put your own “Best of classical music 2012” list in the comments below. Even one entry will help us focus our efforts!

Really – what music or performer do you think we should look out for in 2013?

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Not normal goals for 2013

SPB in Romania, 1987

SPB in Romania, 1987

I can’t believe I spent as much time setting next year’s goals as I did. Really. Goals have always been important to me (you may remember I subscribe to Gary Ryan Blair’s wonderful Goal System)

And whilst there are some great projects in the works, in the back of my mind, and even underway, here are the goals I’m setting myself to achieve in 2013. They are all measurable by my own conscientious intuition, but I’m OK with that this year. Here are my goals:

1. To wake up every morning full of energy, purpose, expectation and ready to make choices.
2. To improve my existing relationships and develop new ones – to contribute & engage (the hard option) rather than withdraw (the easy option).
3. To pursue meaningful and creative work that may not always be flawless.
4. To notice my own and others’ feelings, to appreciate that freedom is a choice, to pursue big dreams, and not to become cynical.
5. To leap, surprise, challenge, embrace, and love boldly.

(Thanks to Chris Guillebeau for some extra guidance this year)

My questions to you are:

  • What are your goals for 2013?
  • Do you feel that any of my goals could apply to you as well?
  • What is one big project you’ll be undertaking next year?

Leave a reply & post your thoughts, feelings and comments below – I read every single one of them!

Ask A Conductor?

Two years ago two of my dear Tweeps @mcmvanbree and @laceyh started an awesome day of musical questioning. Including myself, Lorin Maazel, Sasha Makila, Vladimir Ashkenazy (through the Sydney Symphony Orchestra Twitter account) and a whole host of others, the general public got to ask us Conductors from all over the world… whatever they wanted!

It was challenging and exciting at the same time, yet experts such as Mike Seal and Kenneth Woods provided much insightful entertainment and I look forward to their participation again this year, too.

This year’s event will be on Wednesday, December 12 YOUR LOCAL TIME. That means, the ‘day’ could last up to 48 counted hours!

Anyway, click on this link to see details, including the specific link and hashtag to use when asking your questions:

Ask A Conductor Day 2012

Then spread the word, line up your questions, forward this page, and post, post, post the event everywhere. This really is your annual opportunity to drill us baton-wavers and ask some great or simple questions!

DO IT.

 

 

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Composing D: Development

In Sonta Form there are usually two themes (see last week’s post for the Main Theme of our new piece). This past week that theme and the complimentary Secondary Theme were added to the score, twice each, and spread amongst all the instruments. When these two themes are presented for the first time in their entirety, it is usually in a section called the “Exposition” and this is what it sounds like in our “Sonata for Chamber Orchestra”:

[ca_audio url=”https://www.stephenpbrown.com/blog/wp-content/uploads/2012/10/Sonata-for-Chamber-Orch-Expo.mp3″ width=”500″ height=”27″ css_class=”codeart-google-mp3-player”]

 

Now it’s time to move on to the “Development” section. This is usually the longest section of a piece in Sonata Form as the composer can take snippets of both themes and twist, turn and combine them. They could also be played backwards, upside-down and of course, backwards AND upside-down! These compositional techniques serve to add variety, interest and keep the attentive listener guessing or trying to figure out what’s happening to the music.

Tweetable!
Add variety to your work – can you do something in reverse, upside-down, or another zany way? via @Stephen_P_Brown

 

As an example, let’s take these four notes:

 

Now let’s place those notes in reverse, like a mirror image. You don’t have to be able to read music to see the “Retrograde” pattern: 

 

Ok, now it gets a little tricker. Notice the way the original notes move up (higher) first, and then jump down at the end. Then look at the second bar and see the opposite – the notes move down (lower) first, and then jump up at the end. The melody has been “Inverted“:

 

Finally, let’s try and combine these two elements together. In this example, we first inverted the melody and then took its mirror image. See how the first note of the original (E, in between the top two lines) is also the last note in the Inversion Retrograde variation:

 

There was a time when audiences didn’t have the kind of soundbite distractions we do today, and many could actually HEAR these variations as the music was being played. What a skill! Nowadays we’d consider someone who could do that a genius, in the same way anyone under 18 would call someone who can legibly write cursive/ joined-up text must be a genuis (since public schools in the USA stopped teaching it).

For our new piece “Sonata for Chamber Orchestra” here are some of the snippets from the main themes that appear throughout the Development section:

 

 

 

 

And you’ll just have to wait to hear the complete Development section, I’m afraid!

Tell me below one thing you found fascinating about today’s post. Next week we should have the introduction and Coda (ending) completed, which means the entire composition will be ready! This is your last chance to have an influence on our new piece of music!

Composing A: Foundation

Sometimes it starts with a title. Sometimes a melody. It could be based on a chord progression. But at the heart of any piece of music I write, there is structure.

This is an exploration of the way I compose. You may think it intriguing, fascinating, incorrect, backwards, exemplary, but none of that matters to be honest. Authors write novels in different ways, and composers are no different. I can’t even say this is my ‘method’. What I can say, is that in this highly productive era of musical output in my life, this is how I’m composing right now. Let’s explore the organic growth of a new piece of music, as it’s being written.

It’s a risk! There are extremely productive weeks, and weeks where other things in life get priority. So, either I’m taking a risk and hoping I’ll have enough material to share with you, or I’m setting myself an unconscious goal of having made sufficient progress on the piece that there’s something worth writing about.

Tweetable:
Project blogging risk: has sufficient progress been made to have something worth blogging about? via @Stephen_P_Brown

Today, we launch the new. A brand new piece of music. Let’s take this creative journey together:

This time, I’m actually starting with the instrumentation. It’s very easy in this case because it is already defined. I am writing for the Patel Conservatory Composer’s Orchestra – one of the ensembles in the Patel Conservatory Youth Orchestra program. Why does that make it easy? I already know two things:

  1. What instruments to include in the composition, and
  2. The skill level of each of the players.

When left to my own devices (i.e. not having any specific players in mind), my mind often wanders into the realm of “is it even possible to play like this?” as I’m composing. Not good! So, knowing who the performers are and what they are capable of playing is a huge benefit.

Our new piece is being written for the following instruments:

  • Flutes (2)
  • Oboe
  • Clarinet
  • Bassoon
  • French Horn
  • Bass Trombone
  • Violins (3)
  • Viola
  • Cello
  • Bass (Double Bass/ Contrabass)

That’s it! That’s my first step. In my incredibly useful composing software, Sibelius, I’m going to create a score for just these instruments.

Oh! Here it is! (Click on it to see a larger version)

Score of Conductor Composer Stephen P Brown's new piece

The creation of this music begins with a blank score!

 

What you may notice is some generic stuff I haven’t decided upon yet – like, the title. The time signature is also 4/4, which means four crotchet (quarter note) beats grouped together in each bar, but I might change my mind about that. There’s also no tempo (speed) marking in the top left corner, and no key signature which determines which common group of notes to include (for example – the piano’s white note “B” or the black note next to it “Bb”)

That’ll come next week…

 

World Orchestra Summit

“I’m about to turn the orchestra world on its head and spin it around a few times.”
Stephen P Brown

The current state of orchestras in the USA is embarrassingly unsound, to say the least. The Western World’s orchestral industry has been decimated by highly inflated costs and drastically reduced public interest. Orchestras all over the world are exploring options for future survival, a few unsuccessfully. I believe the basic foundation blocks upon which the “Industry” or “Establishment” has been built have been cracked for some time and are now crumbling under the weight of so many bandages. Whilst in college some 20+ years ago, I warned of orchestras failing after the turn of the century. No-one wanted to hear it then.

Considering all the talk I’ve been witness to in the past five years, the Industry is simply re-redressing its wounds with dirty bandages. A few brave souls are applying ointment, which will not have much impact on a broken bone, but their efforts are recognized and truly appreciated. A handful of orchestras are re-experiencing momentary respite from their woes, again.

I believe we need a fundamentally new structured approach to the whole thing:

  1. Any orchestra, service or product can only exist if it produces income.
  2. Income comes only from those who appreciate what music does to us individually and socially.
  3. We must educate future decision makers on how music affects humans directly.
  4. We should approach such education through performance, as well as other media.
  5. We must do what makes people feel good about themselves – all people.

The goal should be to share music with other humans, not sustain an orchestra, employ musicians, stroke our egos using a community resource, or worse: fearfully hanging on to the previous century’s way of life and expectations.

I believe it is time to start from scratch. I believe there is a sufficient pool of talent (administrative and musical) keen enough to try something brand new. I believe we should explore what that new approach should be, and implement it.

The World Orchestra Summit intends to bring together a carefully selected qualified population of those who have an existing interest in orchestral music to consider a defined model. Ideas will be shared that will greatly impact their lives and if they choose, the lives of their orchestras and audiences. A handful may want to jump on the new Orchestra train as it leaves the station on its inaugural journey.

  • It’s an arts conference like none before it.
  • It’s an opportunity to shake off readjusting, revamping, redoing, revisiting, reorganizing, regrouping, reconstructing, and re-anything.
  • It’s a safe testing ground to see if there is actual commitment to implement new options, or if the Establishment is so ingrained in the orchestra world’s mind that it is actually just trendy talking/ saying the right things.
  • It is an opportunity to begin with a blank sheet of paper and build a fresh, community- society- heart-based tool for reconnecting hard working, leisure seeking people with that inexplicable element of music that makes us laugh & cry and gives us goose bumps.

Are you ready for the World Orchestra Summit?

To get updates on its development via email, sign up at

http://WorldOrchestraSummit.com

 

Speaking of sticks…

Last week’s post was about a global traveler who should be using a stick (according to some conventions), but as noted he often doesn’t. Was it lost? Did somebody steal it? Was it delayed with his luggage? Well, we may have found it.

Fellow conductor and excellent classical music online blogger Kenneth Woods offers an explanation that I think may lead to the culprit: The Timpanist.

 

 

If you’ve ever wondered why the ‘drummer’ at the back of an orchestra needs so many sticks, read Kenneth’s post that explains it all as well as the exploration of the fact that some conductors request specific tools of the trade, and why.

http://kennethwoods.net/blog1/2012/08/05/more-secrets-of-the-timpanist-revealed-the-third-stick/

Think of three tools of your trade that you regularly use, are comfortable with, and consider yourself more of an expert than your boss may be. What are they?