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…

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.

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?)

 

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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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

 

Have stick, will travel

For several years the busiest conductor on the planet was Valery Gergiev. His conducting style is unique (to say the least) but he gets players rallied together to produce fantastic live performances.

Interestingly, he often doesn’t even use a stick (speaking vernacularly. The posh term is ‘baton’ but that’s one of those ‘tomahto, tomayto’ transatlantic words).

Hey – tweet this one:
UK/US translator: Tomahto, Tomaydo = BATTon, buhTONN via @STEphen_P_Brown

There’s one video out there of him conducting with a toothpick! He has three cell phones and keeps a suitcase of clothing in five cities in the world – at least if his flight is delayed he doesn’t have to wait around for his luggage.

Find out what it’s like to be a truly international conductor:

If you could travel the world doing what you love most, what would it be?

 

 

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………..!