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!

 

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

Les Miserables the movie

I’m a fan of “Les Mis” the show. Overall assessment of the movie is good – I liked it and I liked that so many of the audience were directly affected (meaning, audibly sobbing or laughing).

Hugh Jackman (Jean Valjean) – bravo!
Anne Hathaway (Fantine) – well done.
Russell Crowe (Javert) – completely ruined the film. (Sorry Russell!)
Amanda Seyfried (Cosette) – she hit the high notes!
Samantha Barks (Eponine) – terrific. Really.
Isabelle Allen (Young Cosette) – really good singing and acting. A pleasant surprise.
Daniel Huttlestone (Gavroche) – brilliant.
Helena Bonham Carter (Madame Thénardier) – acting brilliance shone through the terrible interpretation.
Borat (Thénardier) – should stick to what he does best: staying off the big screen. Must’ve been a ploy to make the movie attractive to his unique audience.

The cinematography was unnecessarily disruptive and the sound was awful. Sit at your desktop computer or TV surround system and unhook the bass booster before turning the volume down by 1/3.

Did I say that overall I like the movie? It was a very good effort well worth the ticket price.

#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

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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World Premiere Was Wonderful!

Last month I had the distinct honor of attending a Holiday concert in a rather chilly New Jersey, during which my Global Music Award winning piece Wind Quintet 1 was played for the very first time. Thanks to Jane Rondin and the Zephyrs Winds, I got to hear what the ‘human element’ could add to the composition I’d been hearing in my head and online for weeks.

Click it to tweet it:
“Direct human interaction transforms the way we experience music.” (Recordings vs. live concerts) @Stephen_P_Brown

It was pretty good!

The audience seemed to really enjoy all four movements and I’m so pleased there were many friends & fans who were able to join us before (for drinks in town), during and after the concert – thank you. It’s always really nice to see familiar faces and meet new folk, too.

For those of you who were not able to attend, here’s what happened:

Stephen P Brown’s “Wind Quintet 1”

Click here to download the sheet music

 

Do you like this piece?

Let me know in the comments below – it’s probably the easiest [non-live] way to stay in touch with what you like and don’t like.

Give me your feedback and that way, I can write better music!

 

Oh, and please forward this blog post to one of your friends. You just may be surprised who likes it!

 

Wind Quintet 1 by Stephen P Brown wins Global Music Award

 

 

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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…