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

Dreamy… to start with.

The composer Zoltan Kodaly has a special place in my heart and history. I like much of his music, which is very folk-based. He was the chap that pioneered formal classical music based on local regional folk & popular music. He actually traveled around his native Hungary with wax cylinders recording peasants, villagers and gypsies singing their made-up songs. Then he composed pieces of music based on them, and inspired his colleague Bela Bartok to base much of his music on folk tunes and hence the formal genre now known as ‘ethnomusicology‘ was born.

Hungarian Cimbalom Ida Toth Tarjani, 1987 Kodaly Hary Janos Stephen P Brown

Hungarian Cimbalom player Ida Toth Tarjani, 1987

Perhaps Kodaly’s most famous piece is a suite from his opera Hary Janos which features a weird instrument called a cimbalom – it’s like a sideways piano played with sticks instead of keys. When I was playing this piece in Budapest I actually got to have a 3 hour lesson (through an interpreter) with the famous soloist we were playing with, Ida Toth Tarjani. I still fondly look through her autographed instruction manuals with intrigue as I still don’t understand the Hungarian language.

But Kodaly was also present on that trip. Scarily so. In one of the towns we toured through, the orchestra played in a modern concert hall with large huge headshots of Kodaly and Bartok on the sides of the stage overlooking proceedings. During the Hary Janos Suite by Kodaly I made a mistake and played a cymbal crash in the wrong place (something I did again in a Tchaikovsky piece when playing for Henry Mancini a few months later. I was 17 and we were on a barge!). After playing it in the right place I sat down and continued counting the beats until my next entry.

As I counted, I was naturally embarrassed and desperately hoping no-one noticed. But I felt a presence, a “look”. It wasn’t the conductor. My fellow players were giggling at me. Inconspicuously I turned around and looked up, and there was the 12 foot face of Kodaly glaring down at me from on high! The composer did not approve.

I’ve played the piece many times since and never had a problem.

Another of my favorite pieces that Kodaly wrote is the Dances of Galanta. As it happens, this is not based on actual folk songs Kodaly collected but because he became so studious at them, he was able to compose original music that sounded like folk music. It starts out wonderfully dreamy and evocative, but I love the fast-pace ending. Click on the video to watch, and ENJOY!

 

Mind the Gap!

Curved platform, straight carriage.

If you’ve ever been on the Tube (London Underground) you’ll be familiar with the phrase “Mind the Gap!” Not only is it announced as train doors open, but it’s also written on the floor in numerous stations.

To make it easy and efficient for trains to traverse the underground tube-like tunnels throughout London, some tracks are curved even in the stations. Therefore, the platforms are also curved. But train carriages are straight. Naturally, the center of each train carriage is the closest it gets to the platform but the ends of each carriage can be far away. For the sake of providing an efficient service, there is a gap.

By this time next week the world of classical music will have a terrific new resource that reduces the size of a similar large gap: A central concert calendar for classical music happening around Tampa Bay. This is a huge area with more than 4 million year-round residents, and what feels like an almost matching number of part-time residents (a.k.a. “snow birds”). With that kind of crowd spread over Florida’s largest metropolitan area it’s no wonder it can boast three regional performing arts centers and seven local performing arts centers.

There’s a lot of music going on around the Bay.

However, to find a concert you have to look at each venue’s website, or each performer’s website, or any one of the media sites that list hundreds of entertainment opportunities of which only a handful may be ‘classical.’ It gets frustrating. So here’s the solution: a new concert calendar website dedicated to the thousands of classical music fans who have access to Tampa Bay. And that includes you! Seriously, even if you don’t live here, have a winter home here, or have never even been here yet, it’s just a quick and easy flight from New York or a couple of hours from Orlando (think: Disney & Universal), but we have far better beaches.

As a truly loyal reader of my blog, I’m going to give you a sneak preview. Click here to take a behind-the-scenes look around the pre-launch site and as you do so, you may notice some gaps. (If you end up on the prelaunch home page, simply click your browser’s BACK button.)

Mind the Gaps:

  1. We need to encourage local performers and presenters to add their concerts. Have a look at March in the calendar view – it’s pretty full but that’s not everything.
  2. Some of the preview and interview articles are all ready for publishing over the next couple of weeks, although you won’t find them on the prelaunch site – just a Welcome article for now.
  3. None of the paid ads are active, yet. Classical music advertisers book spots by the week, so you’ll start seeing some ads after the launch.
  4. We do not have any concert reviews scheduled yet as the site needs to earn some income in order to pay for reviewers’ tickets.
  5. Your name doesn’t appear as a Partner, yet. During your site exploration did you come across the Partner page? That’s a list of people like you who like Classical Music and believe that this site is providing an incredible service. (If it works well, there are other cities that have already expressed interest in having me setup similar sites for them). The costs of hosting and running the site plus providing outstanding editorial content that is not influenced by ads, is pretty intense.

For as little as $1 a week you could help fill the gaps – especially those last two. Please click here to become a Partner of TampaClassical .com and you will be supporting a valuable service for the classical music industry. Seriously – we need to stick together in this day and age of massive distraction, and I hope you feel motivated to inspire the world through becoming a Partner. Or you could buy some ads!

Thank you.

Please visit TampaClassical.com/Partners now

 

Nostalgic Chatty Conductors in Beautiful Penguin Suits

Can you believe it’s already been a month since the last chat about orchestras on Twitter? It was another FABULOUS discussion amongst some passionate orchestra enthusiasts, and we’re on a role with three under our belt.

twitter#OrchChat was scheduled for one hour and this time people from around the world were prepped and keen to get started. I’m thrilled so many people participated and the conversations got so meaty we even added an additional topic! One piece of feedback was along the lines of having only one topic per chat. It’s certainly a good idea, but my thought is that these monthly Twitter chats should prompt and promote further discussion all over the web-o-sphere – certainly lasting longer than an hour. What do you think? Would it be better to have one topic per chat, or three?

The topics we explored were:

  1. Keep the penguin suits? Should orchestras still be wearing white-tie and tails to perform in. MOST interesting feedback!
  2. Nostalgia: Are performers and audiences stuck with music they like from 100, 200, 300 years ago?
    2a. This actually prompted a new topic: Should conductors talk from the stage? Wow – opposite answers from performers and audiences!
  3. Beauty: What makes music beautiful? A tough one as music is totally subjective, but there were a few responses. Actually, the previous three topics were still dominating the chat well past the closing hour.

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

Some stats:

Click this link to read the transcript:

orchchat_tweets_2013_02_12

THANK YOU to the following participants who I hope will join you and me next time on Tuesday, March 12 at 6pm Eastern Time:

afllewellyn
arts_marketing
AudienceDevSpec
AzuriteEnigma
classicpassion
danielyep
DustinNay
ElinSilveous
fdtorres
gilypoz7
londonsymphony
MaestrosLover
playinglesshurt
pmkotla
PracticalWisdom
RichardBratby
ThePeoplesOrch

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.

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.

 

#OrchChat – January 2013

Twitter was the home of another FABULOUS discussion amongst some passionate orchestra enthusiasts last night!

#OrchChat was scheduled for one hour and although it got off to a slow start, people from around the world joined in and the discussions got meaty. I’m thrilled so many people participated and some have already made terrific suggestions for next month’s session.

The three topics we explored, with very interesting perspectives from performers and audiences, were:

  1. Public Self-Condemnation: does the language orchestras use turn people off?
  2. Dull vs. Sparkling: ballet, opera, film, video games all have visual elements. Are orchestra concerts boring?
  3. Why should orchestras use Twitter?

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

Some stats:

Click this link to read the transcript:

 orchchat_tweets_2013_01_08

THANK YOU to the following participants who I hope will join you and me next time on Tuesday, February 12 at 6pm Eastern Time:

19_eighty_2
afrikajay
AudienceDevSpec
AzuriteEnigma
CStarek
gilypoz7
MaestrosLover
MarkTannerPiano
mlaffs
njd2245
pianobug
Pishlipops
RGinDC
RichardBratby
Stephen_P_Brown
TylerBarton27

You certainly asked!

THANK YOU to all who participated in the 3rd Annual #AskAConductor Day on Twitter earlier this week. Remarkable stuff! Some friendships were rekindled, some new ones made, and I’m hoping that those who like live music (orchestras, choirs, musicals, opera, film, etc.) are now more aware of what conductors actually do, how they do it, and why.

After all, that’s the purpose of giving you a global opportunity to ask a conductor whatever you want!

If you missed it, glean the incredible list of original tweets from the transcript linked below and make sure you join my mailing list so you get to hear about next year’s event ahead of time.

But grab a last-minute chance now – add your question in the comments below and I’ll put it to ‘the crew’ and have a go at answering it myself. We don’t want you non-Tweeters to be left behind, so ask away!

Here are some 2012 #AskAConductor stats:

  • 1028 total tweets between December 11 & December 13 (Eastern Time)
  • 860 original tweets, 68 Retweets
  • 56 participants
  • Most questions from gabriela_hb in El Salvador
  • Top 3 tweeting conductors (excl. me):

Be sure to join in the fun next year!

Click here to download the full transcript (131KB. Need Adobe?)

 

First #OrchChat

Earlier this evening I hosted my first Twitter chat. Thanks to the encouragement, inspiration and sharing of resources from Lisa @PracticalWisdom it seemed to be a success! Well, I certainly enjoyed it, and time simply flew by.

And I’m impressed that a conductor from Finland joined in – it was 1am there when we started!

The three topics we explored, with very interesting opposite perspectives from performers and audiences, were:

  1. Do musicians who played in youth orchestras now advocate for or even attend orchestra concerts?
  2. Do concert halls help or hinder the success of orchestras?
  3. Why are some conductors marketed and treated like Rock Stars?

Click this link to read the transcript:

OrchChat-121120c

Please let me know in the comments below if we should do this again, and if we do, what topics would you like to discuss? Thanks to the following participants, who I hope will join us again next time (yet to be scheduled, because we’ll be doing another #AskAConductor in December…)

@AzuriteEnigma
@GrandmaOnDeck
@heatherc503
@MaestroDSCH
@MaestrosLover
@njd2245
@PracticalWisdom
@sashamakila
@StorkBrian

 

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