Tuesday, March 7, 2017
Friday, January 27, 2017
The sad truth is that many of the projects, concerts, and organizations supported by the National Endowment for the Arts benefit people in areas that otherwise can't afford or support them. Large urban centers like New York or Chicago often have enough wealthy patrons and well-established audiences to support organizations like the New York Philharmonic or the Metropolitan Opera. But tiny towns in the South or the Midwest rarely have the opportunity to enjoy concerts of any kind without government support. The Chamber Music Rural Residencies Program, for example, has helped bring chamber music ensembles like string quartets to rural communities, giving local people a chance to experience live music they've never heard before while helping young professional musicians establish their careers. Likewise, many small community orchestras are supported in part through NEA grants. These orchestras allow many semi-professional or amateur musicians the opportunity to play music they love for their communities.
Furthermore, while billionaires can afford tickets to an concert they want to attend, NEA programs help bring music to people who can't afford tickets. One program will have members of the Philadelphia orchestra work with music therapists to develop music therapy programs for homeless people, which helps them develop coping skills. The NEA-supported Music and Memory program helps bring music to residents of nursing homes. The music helps residents with dementia to reconnect with their memories through music, as well as bringing them pleasure and helping them engage and socialize. Art and music programs for disadvantaged children have been shown to reduce stress and help children develop creativity as well as social and emotional skills. These kinds of programs help bring music to people who need the beauty, creativity, and vitality it offers.
Music should belong to everyone, not just wealthy enclaves in large cities. The power and joy of music and art can build communities and connect people to each other. But without funding for the NEA, many vital programs that bring music to less fortunate people, from disadvantaged children to nursing home residents, are at risk. That's something that should concern all musicians.
Tuesday, December 27, 2016
But, there are plenty of advantages that musicians have over regular folks this season. Here are a few I've noticed.
1. You can sing Christmas Carols and stay in the right key!
Yes, as a musician, you likely have enough pitch sense that you can sing a Christmas carol and stay in key, even if that key has far too many flats, and, oh my, what is that key change the choir director thought would be a good idea for the bridge?
If fact, after so many Christmas concerts, you even know the correct lyrics to most carols, including the second verses!
2. You get extra money!
Sure, some people get end of the year bonuses, but others get tons of seasonal concerts and gigs. All that extra money means this time of year is likely your most profitable! Financial stability, here we come! At least until next month.
3. You have the perfect excuse to avoid awkward work or family functions.
I'm playing in a concert for the such and such symphony means no more uncomfortable small talk with your boss's nephew, the one who constantly insists he's not racist despite all evidence to the contrary. Or avoid trying to remember the names of everyone in the accounting department.
4. Special Effects and Celebrities
Classical music doesn't get them very often, but Christmas and 4th of July Concerts can have as much fire, explosions, older celebrities, and glitter as they please. Anyone else played in the Transiberian? Or maybe along side a famous gospel singer?
5. The whole "bringing joy to children" thing
Yes, most of the time classical concerts are less than kid-friendly, but once you have a Santa Claus with a good baritone, let the little ones come! Let's face it, you have to be five years old to really get the plot of the Nutcracker anyway. There's mice and toy soldiers, and now dancing chocolate, and... just roll with it.
Thursday, November 24, 2016
Recently, the long-time conductor of one of the orchestras I play with retired, so this season the orchestra's board is having a variety of different candidates conduct the orchestra as part of their search for a new conductor. After each concert, orchestra members rate how well they think the candidate did. It's a curious position for an orchestra musician to be in, rating conductors, since for the most part, it's conductors who rate us. Yet, completing these surveys on conducting candidates has made me think about what makes a good conductor, and what a huge difference a conductor can make in an orchestra's sound and musical interpretation. So what ultimately makes a good conductor?
While every musician no doubt has his or her own preferences, I definitely prefer conductors with high standards and a clear idea of musical style and expression. I know it can be tempting to pick a conductor who's willing to "go easy" on the orchestra, with relaxed tempos and undemanding repertoire, but that's not going to build a great ensemble. Besides, that gets dull quickly. But high standards become an exercise in frustration without a strong command of musical style and a sensitive, thoughtful understanding of musical expression. After all, high standards mean little if they don't serve the music. Sometimes musicians and conductors alike get caught up in the pursuit of technical excellence. Technical expertise is only a tool that we use to better express music; it's not an end in itself. A thoughtful conductor must study the music--its history, its composer, and its score--and find within these things the power and beauty that make up this particular piece, then communicates his or her discoveries to the orchestra.
This brings us to another essential quality to a good conductor--they must be excellent at communicating with both the musicians of the orchestra and the audience. A conductor who can't get his or her ideas across to the people who will actually play the music is doomed to frustration, and one who can't build good rapport with an audience is doomed to empty halls. Communication is a tricky subject--some conductors speak fluently to audiences and fill rehearsals with charming anecdotes, while others command rapt attention with their baton alone. I think respect can be a crucial part of good communication. While most conductors I've worked with behave in a professional manner and treat their musicians with appropriate respect, and few bad apples have been known to disregard the musicians they work with. In addition to creating an unpleasant atmosphere for everyone, a lack of professional courtesy creates huge barriers to musical expression. No one can play their best, or express themselves fully, without feeling safe enough to take risks and play with passion and energy. The best musical expression requires mutual cooperation, and that takes mutual respect.
Sunday, November 20, 2016
Altered Instinct: BOOK REVIEW: Red Sun Magazine issue 2: Red Sun Magazine Not so long ago, I reviewed the debut issue of Red Sun Magazine . And by darn, if issue two isn't here already. T...
Thursday, October 27, 2016
One of my short stories, "Earth is for Earthers," is appearing in the most recent issue of Red Sun Magazine! I'm super excited to be a part of it, and I especially loved the haunting and beautiful cover illustration. The magazine is full of great content, including very thoughtful articles by Judith Field and Karen Smith, as well as an in-depth interview with the creators of Cromcast, a podcast about Science Fiction and Fantasy author Robert E. Howard. If you're interested in all things Science Fiction and Fantasy, check it out!
For example, in their CD Ice and Longboats the musical group Ensemble Mare Balticum tries to recreate Viking music, using musical archeology, old Scandinavian folk songs, and early Medieval Christian music as a starting point. They improvise on Viking era instruments to capture the sounds of the age, and perhaps improvisatory melodies once accompanied recitations of epic poems like the great Norse sagas, or even the Anglo-Saxon epic Beowulf. The musicians of Ensemble Mare Balticum conducted extensive research in partnership with the European Music Archeology Project to produce Ice and Longboats. With pure melodies sparsely accompanied with period instruments, this CD feels authentic.