Do you ‘wing it’?

Setting up a plan of action really does seem to work, wouldn’t you agree?

As the Psalm Setting Quest was formulating, for fun I figured out a way to determine in which order I would use the psalms to compose music to. A few columns, sorts and ranking formulas were added to a spreadsheet and “voilà!” an evenly mixed distribution of each psalm type. There’s actually one psalm type (Prophetic) that has just one psalm in it and I know this ranking system works when that psalm (#50) appears right in the middle of the list, as the 75th piece of music I will write.

An added benefit of using a spreadsheet to create the order, is that due dates could be easily scheduled, and even completion tracking could be setup to be very user-friendly (just check out the stats on the right →). If this all sounds computer-geeky-like to you, just remember that there’s some truth to the old cliché that “music and mathematics” go well together 😉

Well, the crux of it is that I started composing early, and have actually now finished my first piece.

It is Psalm 19.

I gathered several sources together to help me determine the content and perspective of each psalm, and according to a Wikipedia entry, the first few verses of this “Song of Praise”

present the heavenly bodies and their movement as a universal witness to the glory of God that is understood by people of every language. The language connects day and night as a continuous presentation. The words suggest energy, strength, joy, and light.

So I zeroed-in on that last sentence, and used it as the composition’s title: “Energy, Strength, Joy & Light.” I created four verses in this piece, one for each of those characteristics, and interjected a chorus using the meditative prayer in the last verse of the psalm. There are moments of ‘clumsiness’ particularly in the Strength verse and the chorus (a rising pattern on the vowel ‘o’ as in “of” – not an easy task to sing well!) which are hints at the psalm’s admittance of man’s presumptuousness when compared alongside God’s creations.

The instrumentation of this piece was determined with a very close outcome, by you. Click here to check out the poll results.

I started composing, wary of contrary motion, harmonic sequencing and melodic interest for all the performers. Below is the computer-generated audio (never an attractive proposition, especially when it comes to representing human voices), and I am making the sheet music available for free for one week only – go and print it now and give it to someone!

“Energy, Strength, Joy & Light”

[ca_audio url=”https://www.stephenpbrown.com/audio/019_EnergyStrengthJoyLight_DEMO.mp3″ width=”500″ height=”27″ css_class=”codeart-google-mp3-player” autoplay=”false”]

Having a plan in place, complete with 7 years’ worth of due dates, has created a great foundation for this massive project. Even though I am now ahead of schedule (I wasn’t even planning to start writing until my birthday this year, but couldn’t wait) there is some sort of sense of accomplishment in checking off a task.

Do you use project plans for your hobby or craft? Or do you just ‘wing it’ and see where it takes you? Let me know in the comments below.

Unexpected advice and a possible way forward

What an incredible week.

My last blog post “Keeping up appearances” attracted the most views I’ve ever had, as well as the most comments. Thank you!

It is clear that many of you believe a small group of advisers or friends with whom you can share disappointments is a good thing, but even better is a mentor or two. I must admit to constantly referring back to the same handful of people on many matters, but unfortunately I have yet to come across a mentoring candidate in my industry who is on the same playing field/ experienced in what I’m trying to do/ ignoring staid industry norms.

Not even the adventurous Emily Wozniak and her Sound ExChange Orchestra can claim that no-one has done it before. Maybe the Aurora Orchestra is the closest thing to my kind of innovation. Certainly their marketing is – that’s a great 2013 season video:

 

 

The small, global Orchestra Establishment has its noose tightly wrapped around just about everyone, convincing them there is no other way. Certainly every Musical Director and Senior Administrator in the USA & UK, who are probably the closest candidates for mentoring someone like me, succumb to their ways if they want to keep making great orchestral music in the current climate. Emily is young, cute and has a plethora of eager college students at her disposal. I don’t know if she has a mentor or two, but even if she doesn’t yet it won’t be hard to find them. On the other hand, I’m not quite as attractive as she is, and at 42 years old most people would expect me to know what I’m doing and be mentoring others – probably people like Emily.

In fact, I am and have been for several years (I wonder if that explains why people started calling me Maestro a couple of years ago?). Many ex-students stay in touch and I often support them through their own career and life decision-making processes. Just earlier this month one of my longer-term online students came from El Salvador to Tampa for our first in-person sessions – a couple of lessons, a couple of chats about goals and career options, and participation in some rehearsals & concerts. It’s very different in person than via email, and the visit has strengthened the trust between us.

George Marriner Maull, the closest and longest music-related adviser Stephen P Brown has worked with.

The vibrant George Marriner Maull
Photo courtesy of aptonline.org

I definitely have advisers (actually, more like Friends) in business, spirituality and my personal life, but not in the break-the-mold, rip-it-up-and-start-again orchestra industry of the 21st century. [At this point I must give a nod to a dear, dear friend who has taught me a great deal about how to approach music, and makes time to hear my concerns as much as his schedule permits: George Marriner Maull of the Discovery Orchestra. Please buy their incredible DVDs. George has had a profound influence in my musical life since I was a teenager, and continues to do so, but his efforts are hampered by the old-school setup of classical music – which is what I broke away from many years ago. He is doing remarkable work bringing live classical music to children and generally interested people and I hope his passionate flame burns brightly for a long, long time.]

All in all, perhaps that is why last week’s post expressed surprise about sharing deeply personal disappointment – without a mentor it’s not something I’ve done or experienced before and I’ve been immensely touched by your response & support. Here’s an interesting twist, though: whilst many of the blog post comments answered my questions, and many others were boosting my confidence (thank you!), some actionable solutions actually came via email.

One reoccurring solution in particular caused me to think about it over this past weekend, and I think I’m going to look into it further.

I’ll post about it on Friday, but suffice it to say: it will have a HUGE impact.

 

Do you have a mentor?

Have you had a mentor in the past?

Have you been a mentor for someone?

Let me know what the benefits are in the comments below…

Fire the musicians!

RLPO Courtesy of ClassicFM.com

Yet another terrific #OrchChat last week! Thank you to all who participated in the lively discussion.

For one hour several people from around the world gradually joined in as schedules permitted, and there was much intense and passionate discussion among the group. Based on feedback, we kept the format to three topics and as usual, they bled into and over each other. It was actually fun (no, really) keeping up.

The topics we explored were:

  1. Free Flashmobs. Although a great marketing tool, when orchestras perform for free do they devalue what they do?
  2. Liven it up! How do we overcome performer’s lethargism due to the repetitive nature of the job? Fascinating responses, including “Fire them!” (unfortunately it was a very well known critic who has since closed his Twitter account 🙁 ) as well as changing the shape of the concert hall (or getting rid of the “stage” altogether!)
  3. Who’s in charge? Again, opposing viewpoints on who calls the shots – the money (i.e. the Board) or the Artistic Director? (Almost no-one supported the CEO or other administrator.)

What are your thoughts about these topics, and what topics would you like to discuss? Add your comments below this post.

Some stats for the hashtag #OrchChat (some people keep forgetting to add it to their tweets – sorry!):

Click this link to read the transcript:

orchchat_tweets_2013_03_12

THANK YOU to the following participants who I hope will join you and me next time on Tuesday, April 9 at 6pm Eastern Time:

AudienceDevSpec
CStarek
CatchMaullaria
AzuriteEnigma
LaceyH
pscanling
RichardBratby
BrianKUSC
CarmenBound

Hot Topics for Orchestras

(Percussionists: Get “Six by Six” for only $6 or £6 just this weekend, during the McCormick Marimba Festival!)

HotTopics

The orchestra world (particularly in the USA) is currently rife with intrigue, politics, passionate zealots and somewhere in the midst… great music.

Over the past few weeks there have been some interesting observations touching on the borders of three particular topics, and not being one for averting the unpopular or difficult, I shall name them right here, right now:

  1. Keep the penguins?
  2. Nostalgia.
  3. What makes music beautiful?

There we have it. I’m serious. OK, so the titles themselves may not ring any bells with you, but let me explain:

Penguins. As in, penguin suits. As in, those black and white suits with flapping tails that are still so prevalent in concert halls. Should we keep them, or should we dump them, or do audiences really not care? I’d like to know what YOU think.

Nostalgia. Is the orchestra world stuck in a realm of pandering to people’s comfort in the past, or is it genuine interest and emotionally thrilling to enjoy music that is 100, 200 or 300 years old?

Beautiful music? Indeed. Some dear friends tried to help me with this one last week (read the post and comments here) but I thought I’d widen the pool of input.

So, these are the current Hot Topics for Orchestras that are in my world right now, and I’d love to hear what you have to say. Either comment below (nicely, please) or join me and about 15 others for a chat on Twitter. Yes, we’re going to attempt to tackle all three Hot Topics in just one hour on Tuesday night at 6pm Eastern Time.

Mark your calendar, sit down early with a bite to eat (dessert for many, breakfast for some!) and let’s hash it out.

#OrchChat – Tuesday, February 12 at 6pm Eastern Time, on Twitter.

http://tweetchat.com/room/OrchChat

P.S. Keep your eye open for an amazing new website being launched in March. It’s incredible. Especially if you live near or plan to visit Tampa Bay.

Today’s choices

I first came across Chris Guillebeau in early 2012, stumbling upon one of his posts about his travelling the world. Literally. He set himself the goal of visiting every country in the world by the time he turns 35 years old. He currently has eight (that’s “8” out of 200 or so) countries left.

Most interestingly, on his travels he has met hundreds of self-made people. People who found a passion and are earning their living at it. People who saw a need and earn a living filling it. People who had an idea and earn a living selling it.

So he interviewed them and came up with a great book: The $100 startup (Amazon affiliate link)(You will get a lot out of this book, folks).

But, when recently asked by Marie Foleo what the one single most important feature these hundreds of successful people across the globe shared was, he replied:

The choices we make now affect the opportunities available to us in the future. @ChrisGuillebeau via @Stephen_P_Brown
(Click on it to tweet & share it with your world)

Right now, think of three choices you have to make today, and share in the comments below how you think they may affect your future.

 

 

Too adventurous for our own good?

There was recently an unscientific poll taken amongst office workers in the USA. Whilst a myriad of issues, concerns, quirks and considerations could be used to undermine the results, I’m not really caring. Instead, I’m choosing to see that classical music not only made it onto the list, but is way, way up there in third place.

 

My favorite relaxation technique is…

  • Walking or jogging – 47%
  • Meditating or deep breathing – 19%
  • Gardening – 12%
  • Doing yoga – 6%
  • Listening to classical music – 15%

Total votes: 1147

Apart from the momentary joy, doesn’t this bear thinking about?

We have lots of Garden Centers and garden sections of superstores, and many small yoga clubs and sports stores that sell yoga equipment (& CDs). Some of the superstores even have music/ entertainment sections. So I wonder why the range of classical music CDs is shrinking so much? According to this survey, we should be seeing more concerts and more options available for purchase! One of the problems (in my humble opinion) is that the classical music recordings available all seem to be the same.

Not to the trained ear, perhaps, but to the vast majority of people who might enjoy classical music, they only need one CD of Beethoven or Mozart, yet the industry DROWNS us with the same material over and over. Not sure there are many other genres that do that… perhaps Opera. One young professional was recently asked why they didn’t attend classical music concerts, to which his reply was “they’re all the same. There’s nothing new I like.”

Woah!

The first family car I remember – a Ford Cortina (UK)

This thought is worth sharing. Click the sentence below to Tweet it, or copy and paste
There are two types of new classical music: that the ticket buyers like and that they don’t. Balance is important! via @Stephen_P_Brown

And ‘new’ doesn’t necessarily have to mean unpalatable Stockhausen or Birtwhistle (warning: link to audio dissonance), either. Think about it: Pop music primarily uses the same chord sequences over and over and over, yet there is still a ton of new music being produced on a daily basis, both by the commercial heavyweights (labels) as well as grass roots. To some of my non-Western friends who don’t get to hear much music at all, they thought Gaga could have been a breakaway soloist from Abba (warning: link to endless audio pleasure). Nice! Lyrics may change, but stories & topics don’t much. Tunes may alter slightly, but the beat and chord patterns don’t much.

So why does the classical music industry not encourage more ‘palatable’ new works, even if they sound similar to previous compositions? Even the experimental, advanced, high-tech, forward-thinking, slightly differing Formula 1 race cars still have four wheels, a couple of mirrors and the need for speed, just like my dad’s old family Ford Cortina of the 1970s.

I’m gonna change that… I’m going to join the rest of the composers who feel no shame in writing music that is ‘likable’ and ‘listenable’ and see what happens – see who attends my concerts and buys my CDs (when I get to make one). Hey, if one of my pieces can attract some 23,000 YouTube views………..!

 

Churches and Arts

How many artists does it take to change a light bulb?

How many churches can you fit into one square mile?

It didn’t take long to get overwhelmed by both the sheer number of churches in Tampa Bay as well as the incredible arts scene. There are artists everywhere, from muralists to house sculptures, street musicians to ballet, four opera companies to symphony orchestras, three regional performing arts centers and seven local ones.

You’ll have no problem finding a
church in Tampa Bay

As for churches, there is barely a single block without one. Every denomination is represented and quite a few independent ones, too. And it’s not as though these churches are spread so thinly they’re all empty – far from it. There are two on the same street with 2,000 seat auditoriums as well as schools. They don’t need a volunteer policeman to help with traffic flow, they have a whole brigade!

So when thinking about what piece of music to write, it happened that the most obvious but probably understated thing about Tampa Bay is the proliferation of churches and arts. Active churches and live arts.

So that’s actually where our story begins, with what became movement 5 of my piece “Tapestry Tampa Bay.” It also happens to be my most favorite piece, because it’s well written and it’s pretty.

Think church bells. Think artsy. Combine the two, and you get a high-pitched bouncy theme that is repeated and repeated and echoed and echoed. Tinkling and hymnal at the same time. Religious yet constantly defying normal conventions. It’s all rolled into one little ditty, which to me encompasses all that Tampa Bay is.

On top of that, there’s some thematic material (i.e. a tune) that was initially a pleasant secret that I can hold in no longer: this movement directly reflects the title of the whole piece. Say “Tapestry Tampa Bay” out loud, in a rhythm and with natural inflection. Soon you’ll be singing along with the music!

—–

The World Premiere concert of this piece has been getting some pretty wide press coverage, I’m very happy to say. The Tampa Bay Times, The Palm Harbor Beacon, NBC News, WFLA-TV, and a spectacular article in the Tampa Tribune.