A sample of the new concerto

 

British American Conductor Composer Stephen P Brown writes a concerto for bass clarinet and stringsMy next composition isn’t quite ready yet.

But I really like it and want to share it with you NOW.

So, there’s a sample below!

It may seem my 7 year #PsalmQuest has been on hiatus and maybe you even thought I’d given up already.

Well, I was ahead of schedule so after all the Christmas performances I did take some time off over Christmas and New Year to visit lots of people up and down East Coast USA, and then I embarked on my long-awaited Concerto for Bass Clarinet and strings.

It’s almost ready and we all have to be thankful to Calvin Falwell and Diana Hessinger for commissioning this piece upfront, as well as all the bass clarinet players around the world who are signing up for first year rights to perform – it’s very exciting being involved in such a forward-thinking, risk-taking consortium. Thank you!

So, without further ado, click on the video below for a sneak preview:

What do you think? Tell me below… if you dare!

Would you like to be part of the commissioning consortium? It’s very easy: promise to perform it at least once and send us some proof, basically.

Let me know in the comments below if you’re interested and I’ll make sure you and Calvin are connected – he has all the details.

Thanks for listening, and here’s looking forward to the full monty in the next week or two!

Who cares about live music?

"Tell Someone Who Cares"Time for a rant/ rave/ vent, methinks. It’s been a while. Bear with me:

Who cares about live music?

Everywhere I look there are stories of musicians being yelled off their stage, performers crying for “decent” pay, orchestras and opera houses closing down, music schools diminishing beyond recognition, and a host of other music-related news that simply doesn’t play a pretty tune.

So, who actually still cares about music?

  • Musicians do (instrumentalists, singers, composers, conductors).
  • Politicians will if it makes them popular.
  • Some film producers and directors do.
  • Music writers and administrators do.
  • Music teachers and professors do.
  • Some corporate executives hoping to make their company look good by supporting local musical establishments might.

Who else?

  • And don’t tell me dancers do – if they did we’d still have live musicians at every performance.
  • And don’t tell me most audiences do – if they did they’d willingly pay the costs of every concert.
  • And don’t tell me clergy do – if they did they wouldn’t be promoting celebrities who sing to pre-recorded tracks.

But despite the seemingly exhaustive list of supporters, first: look how many people who experienced music directly in their lives are those who remain passionate about it, and second: I can’t help but feel an underlying podium of obligation and hidden-agenda persuasion.

The fact is, in 2013 there are very few people who care about one of humankind’s most fundamental forms of expression. “Music” has been around for as long as birds could whistle and people could control the pitch of their voices. For centuries it was just a part of everyday life for just about everyone.

16th Century Gregorian Chant Song Book

This 16thC songbook in Seville Cathedral contains many chants “composed” over hundreds of years

Then, about 500+ years ago, someone figured out a way to write it down so others could repeat what was being expressed. (Actually, music was used in the church to aid priests with their memorization of liturgical text – a trick that is still used today.) I’ve seen one of the earliest songbooks known to exist, currently housed in Seville cathedral, and when people stop to consider what it represents, it is an awesome thing. But, like so many museum pieces, most people just wander by and say ¡Qué Bueno! (“That’s nice.”) You can hear the apathy in their tone.

Since then, there’s been a direct split between formal music and popular music. Even these words seem insufficient to describe the horrors of classifying and labeling just about each individual’s specific tastes, desires, likes and academic output of organized sound-based expression.

But what really scares me are these two facts:

1. Older generations are telling younger generations that music is unworthy, not to be valued, and an interrupting annoyance. Instead, we are taught by decision-makers and influencers that it is a gimmick, a sometimes useful but very expensive tool of persuasion, and wholly unessential or unnecessary for anyone’s well-being. Example: “Our youth groups don’t want to see an orchestra on stage – that’s not our vision for them.” Example: “Oh! That youth orchestra is just way too loud whilst we’re shopping. C’mon, let’s leave.” Example: This whole flashmob was commercially staged, including the little girl at the beginning – the bank the performers were in front of was celebrating its 130th birthday.

2. Musicians are out to prove their relevance/ worth/ value, demand certain rights, and are using Music as a political means to get what they want (be that income, satisfaction, their own worth/ value, proof that they matter or haven’t wasted their lives pursuing something pointless, etc.).

Ouch.

And I’m fed up with it.

In today’s technological digitized world, is there even a future for music? At all? We have created machines that compose and conduct, and devices that source every piece of music that has ever been recorded or constructed as an audio file. [And that’s a whole other rant – are we listening to the performers, or the sound system? More on that another time.] Music provides some sort of background sensory stimulation in almost every activity many Western humans undertake, including shopping, using public toilets, driving, office work, jogging, and so on.

The recent spike in popularity of orchestras playing music whilst a film is displayed above them is an extension of the old piano-playing cinemas of… wait for it… not even a hundred years ago. In Beethoven’s time it was rare for concert halls to have seats. People mingled, chatted, ate & drank, and had a good old time hanging out. In Mozart’s time, operas told stories of faraway places and unknown cultures with drama and costumes and scenery and, of course, dramatic music.

Mention opera nowadays and most people yawn.

What’s happened? What’s going on? Where are humans headed next? Hardly the dearly desired World Peace, that’s for sure! And I fear the loss of music and the senses that rely on it for their useful/ proper/ full development, will transform humans into unthinking creatures of survival habit.

And yet we’ve come so far…

What do you think? Add a comment below and let’s talk about it…

Maybe it’s just in specific cultures. Maybe this is all totally imagined. Regardless, I’m upset so many humans around us are dismissing live music making, and I’m getting angry enough to do something about it in my little circle of influence. More about that soon!

 

The Last “Substance Leader” – Nelson Mandela

Nelson Mandela BBC News Obituary

Click here for the BBC News Obituary about Nelson Mandela

Well, we can decidedly close an entire volume of human history: another era has come to a close. Although we still have a 110 year old pianist who remembers meeting Gustav Mahler, we have lost the last bastion of trustworthy social leadership. Nelson Mandela worked for a living despite his royal heritage, and all the while stood up for equality principles before finally leading an entire nation of different peoples into a more cohesive and prosperous future for all. At least for a while. I’m sure being in prison for 27 years imbued much substance that supported his convictions.

When any leader takes a stance on anything, many other people often choose to polarize themselves either for or against them (Conductors are not exempt!), so it will be very interesting to see how South Africans react to the death of Mandela: Will we see unprecedented collaboration or will it be all smoke and mirrors? Will there be continued peace or after a period of global mourning will the old divisions arise? Will there be no noticeable difference because our memories of his actions have faded and been overshadowed by so much else since then?

It is extremely doubtful we will ever see the likes of Mandela, Thatcher, Reagan, and Gorbachev ever again: regardless of their politics, they were people who earned a living in a trade and who learned the ways of the world from similar places you and I stand, and who earned the positions we entrusted them with through hard work and matters of substance. Not funding, slick marketing or family connections.

It is clear that the last chapter in the volume of political honesty, integrity and conviction in social leadership has ended, and as we ride the journey of the internet and corporately funded politics, we are in a new age of human existence that will take us and our leaders lacking in their own substance through an existence never before considered. It’s quite exciting, really!

Back to Choral Roots

A couple of months ago I was appointed Conductor of the 40+ year old Clearwater Chorus. It’s an ensemble of people who like to sing, and encourages adults of varying ages and abilities to make and share music together.

At least, that’s what it is now.

The Clearwater Chorus

Although not titled a “Director” that is effectively my role and as a result, I’ve grabbed hold of the reins and am guiding the ensemble through a new perspective: who we have and what we do now is what we are, and as long as we work together to share music, we’ll be doing something of value to the world.

[Click here: I’m giving away four tickets to our concert on Dec 22!]

Why is this so new? Because like so many institutions that are founded and/or led by an individual for so long (in this case, Arthur Goetze who directed the group from 1975-2005), its members can become entrenched in “the way things were.” This is also a very typical perspective of older generations, especially those who have worked their whole lives and are now enjoying a few special comforts in retirement: they expect things to stay the way they know them. But that is so rarely beneficial for anyone, and certainly not how the world spins.

So whilst respecting the past and honoring those who have gained far more experience with this ensemble than I ever hope to, it is now time to focus not on what we don’t have but on what we do…

Doesn’t this pertain to life in general?

For example, over the past 12 years I have mourned the loss of an active performing and teaching career founded in music, something I have known to be a primary part of my existence since I was in single digits. My music career after moving to the USA has been patchy, fraught with unconfidence, some expensive decisions, and a distinct lack of industry contacts that don’t label me an outsider.

But this current appointment has, unexpectedly, brought me right back to square one – the roots from which my fascination with music grew.

British American Conductor Composer Stephen P Brown began his musical life as a choir boy in Cuxton Church

The Anglo Saxon village church in Cuxton UK, where I was a choir boy

I was 7 years old when I began playing the piano, but that was after I began singing in my English village church choir. I remember joining the village Junior School choir around the same time, as well, but by the time I had moved to my UK secondary school at age 11, I was fully immersed in singing, piano and clarinet. It wasn’t until just before I moved to the USA the first time that I showed any interest in percussion (and if you know me, it was an incredible 4 years of percussion playing that got me into college at 17 years old! More on that another time, perhaps).

During my college years a budding-conductor buddy of mine, Chris Kiver now a Choral Professor at Penn State University, and I would organize “Scratch” singing sessions in which anyone who wanted to play and sing the repertoire we had planned could do so. Of course we did much recruiting, but giving solo parts to multiple singers throughout each piece enabled them to get much needed experience, and Chris and I to learn many differing needs of accompaniment.

In the years that followed college I conducted various ensembles such as the Ealing Choral Society (thanks to the late great James Gaddarn), the Yalding Choral Society, the Medway Community College Singers, and a whole host of other one-off groups. Four highlights in particular were:

  • Conducting Handel’s complete Messiah with 5 days’ notice when the conductor who was booked fell ill,
  • Conducting a “Marathon Singing Session” in which almost 1,000 teenagers sang hymns, easy listening songs and some chart songs,
  • Conducting the European Premiere of Dawn Mantras (outside, at sunrise) by Australian composer Ross Edwards during the UK’s year-long Millennium Festival in 2000, and
  • Singing for John Rutter at Carnegie Hall in his own composition Magnificat.
British American Conductor Composer sang at Carnegie Hall for John Rutter

Melissa and I hanging out with John Rutter in NYC

In addition, I played timpani or percussion for countless choral societies around the UK in more pieces of music than I can remember – hundreds. And, being a percussionist usually with lots of time not actually playing, I got to listen to conductors rehearse their choirs, listen to the choir members mutter under their breath, and have choir members (usually altos) unsolicitally (?!) share their awe about how anyone could actually play the timpani: “I never knew they had pedals like that!”

Interestingly, only a handful of these choral activities “made the cut” onto my resume, so when most folk read my history of musical performance, they see “instrumental conductor” or even just “music teacher.” It’s quite annoying, really, because although conductors in the UK and Europe are trained to be teachers (hence the general reference to them as “Maestro“) in all genres of “formal” music – orchestral, choral, opera, musicals, some concert/wind band and maybe even ballet – in the USA conductors are labelled at a young age and ‘specialize’ not in leadership or motivation, but as a topical expert in just one of those genres. It’s such a pity.

Of course there are exceptions such as James Levine. Kind of. And the incomparable Leonard Bernstein. But generally, conductors in the USA are rarely recognized as even “capable” of conducting well in more than one musical genre. You can tell when a choral conductor has an orchestra in front of them, and you can tell when an orchestral conductor now has to deal with a choir, too. I’m quite proud of the fact that I was taught and expected to work with both, so now that I’m working with the Clearwater Chorus (this links to our Facebook page – please Like it!), not only do I feel comfortable and confident that I can help produce a good sound, help the singers sing together, and focus on sharing good stories and music with others (including the audience), but it is also bringing me back to my roots in music – as that little angelic Church of England choir boy in my village.

For your entertainment: This is one of my favourite Bernstein performances of showmanship, especially around the 5 minute mark. It’s even more engaging because of the video/ audio mis-synching!

Seeking Leadership Stories

leadership01As a Conductor I am often held responsible not just for the instant moment-by-moment success of live music-making, but also the entire image, direction and resourcefulness of the whole organization. Every action and decision a leader makes directly influences outcomes and sales. (Click it to tweet it!)

As you know, that basically sums up the outcome of every leader’s work.

Leadership studies

So over the years I have studied and explored a great many leadership and management concepts and skills, including those espoused by Tom Peters, Michael Hyatt, Marie Forleo, Dave Ramsey, Richard Branson, John C. Maxwell, Michael E. Gerber, J. W. Marriott Jr., Charles Forte, Earl Nightingale, and a WHOLE host more (usually through biographies). In addition, since my teen years I have closely watched other leaders at work – conductors, business owners and corporate management – to learn what works well as well as what doesn’t seem to work well.

It’s been a fascinating journey. However, one thing I’ve noticed is how much Conducting orchestras, choirs and musicals not only incorporates almost every leadership skill out there, but very clearly and succinctly brings them altogether in one easily-observable package.

Really?

Yes, really.

So I’ve summarized what I’ve learnt, observed and tested (meaning: tried out in live environments) and written them down from a conductor’s point of view in a cute little book. I think you’ll find it interesting. However, I’d like to marry these leadership concepts to non-musical examples that many others can identify with.

What’s your story?

Do you have a leadership story to share?

Do you have a leadership story to share?

If you are or have been a leader in any industry in any organization, I’d love to hear from you: Corporations, Small-Business, Community Groups, Governments, Sports, Church, School, Fundraising events, or wherever you have been responsible for leading others to achieve a mutual goal.

Check out the seven scenarios listed and if you have a story to share for any of them, add it to the comments (remember to log in FIRST, before writing your story!)

Thanks for your time and willingness to share your expertise and experiences. If you have any questions, please do send me an email

  1. You give the ‘Go!’ A launch, pep talk or somehow getting your team off to a great start

  2. You take note of how things are progressing and offer a little encouragement here, a little adjustment there…

  3. You can’t help but smile at what your team is accomplishing! You show your team how pleased you are with their efforts.

  4. Was there a time you or your boss didn’t trust the team to start on their own? Did you have to control how they began? Did such behavior prevent the most effective launch possible? How have you been a different leader since then?

  5. Was there a time you or your boss didn’t trust the team to do their work? Did you control every move they made? Did such behavior demotivate people? How have you been a different leader since then?

  6. Was there a time you or your boss were completely hands off and didn’t really know what the team were doing? Did such behavior prevent progress and/or quality outcomes? How have you been a different leader since then?

  7. Did you ever actively encourage your team to grow and become better than you (at what they do)? Did your team benefit from expanded skills, new approaches and advanced learning? How did that affect the team’s productivity?

THANK YOU 🙂

 (Log in below to add your story)

Please… be our conductor!

Uh-oh!

I completely forgot to write a blog post this week! So, instead, here’s an entertaining video.

If you ever want to be a conductor, the best advice I can offer is to be in the right place at the right time: I hope you find a similar opportunity near you soon!

 

 

My first rehearsal with the Clearwater Chorus went very well this week, and I’m in the middle of composing a piece for solo harp, plus the usual projects and daily grind.

17 insane (but probably true) things about music

This is just a fun post. None of these facts have been verified, but I bet at least one of them will put a smile on your face! Have a great week 🙂

Conductor Composer Stephen P Brown - Conductor Arturo Toscanini

Toscanini’s radio programs started the silent orchestra concert revolution in the 1930s

1. There is a law in New Hampshire that prevents you from tapping your feet, nodding your head, or in any other way keep time to music whilst in a tavern (pub), restaurant or cafe.

2. In the 1930s, applause caused Toscanini’s radio concerts to be too long so the audience was asked to be quiet. Until then, classical music concerts were extremely rowdy with people standing, walking around, drinking & eating, and having complete conversations while the musicians performed.

3. No one knows where Mozart is buried.

4. Warner Communications paid $28 million for the copyright to the song Happy Birthday (which was later determined to be public domain! Oops).

5. The Japanese national anthem is expressed in only four lines. The Greek anthem runs 158 verses.

6. In France, between the hours of 8AM and 8PM, 70% of music on the radio must be by French artists. (Maybe not so insane?)

7. James Brown had 99 “Hot 100” Billboard entries, yet never had a number one Hot 100 hit.

8. British leader Oliver Cromwell outlawed Christmas Carols in England from 1647-1660.

9. When rural Pakistani folksinger Zarsanga sings in public, fans routinely mark the choruses of her most popular Peshto-language songs with mass shotgun-firing.

10. Diana Ross appeared on at least one hit single every year between 1964 and 1996, an incredible 33 years.

11. At age 4, Mozart composed a concerto for the clavier (“piano” predecessor).

12. Dvorak’s symphony nicknamed “From The New World” contains music mostly inspired by his native Bohemia (Czech Rep). It’s actually a musical letter he wrote whilst working in the US, often reminiscing about his homeland.

13. The famed “Here Comes the Bride” march is actually from Wagner’s opera Lohengrin and is the transition into the newlyweds’ [dramatic] bedroom scene, after the wedding had taken place.

Conductor Composer Stephen P Brown share an insane fact about music

14. A piece of music written in 1964 by Lamonte Young, is called “The Tortoise Recalling the Drone of the Holy Numbers as They Were Revealed in the Dreams of the Whirlwind and the Obsidian Gang, Illustrated by the Sawmill, the Green Sawtooth Ocelot, and the High-tension Line Stepdown Transformer.”

15. No-one knows how much of Mozart’s Requiem was composed by Mozart, as it was completed by several others after his death. Salieri was not one of them.

16. Apparently, Franz Schubert never owned a piano. He always went to one of his friends house when he needed one.

17. The first conductor to use a baton (Jean-Baptiste Lully, 1632-1687) stabbed himself with it during a concert, and eventually died of gangrene.

Click here to tweet this list!

Do you know of any other strange facts about music? Add them in the comments below.

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