My passion is to help others in the community, young, old, and everyone in between, find relevance and joy in learning, performing or listening to classical music.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Audience participation? What?? We have to do something???

This is a fabulous post that I think should be read by everyone who attends concerts, art gallery openings, plays, and the like.  I agree with Ms. Saathoff's can be very deflating to give out all of your energy in a performance, walk off stage, and then have to just walk out of the concert hall alone, without any interaction from the audience.  It really makes you wonder if what you do makes any difference at all. 

Thanks for the consideration!

Monday, November 23, 2009

A link to an article with an interesting perspective on classical music

A few months ago, when I was began looking into what folks in the field were saying about classical music and it's future, I came across this article that was written back in December of 2007 by Anthony Tommasini for the New York Times.  Back when I read it, I found it very enlightening even though the observations Mr. Tommasini makes, in particular about the discrepancy of length between your typical classical work versus the typical popular song, seem like they should be obvious.  And now that I've spent several months reading articles on the internet, lurking around in twitterland, talking to musicians and non-musicians here and there, I find this article just as insightful as is was the first time I read it so here it is for you to enjoy...I look forward to hearing, or rather reading your comments on the article.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Words for a musician (or any artist) live by

Another twitter discovery today...a fellow twitterer pointed out this short but sweet blog post today that I want to print out and hand to every young musician I work with.  Great words to keep us in check as artists.

Link to fantastic website showing how a piano works

I discovered this great website today thanks to twitter.  The folks at Lindeblad Piano Restoration, located in Pine Brook, New Jersey, have put together this fantastic website showing the inner workings of a grand piano. 

Warning - this model reveals all, so if you are at all prone to fainting in the presence of anatomically realistic scenes, you may want to make sure you're sitting down for this.  Just kidding ;-)  Enjoy!

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Link to a must-read interview with Anne Midgette, classical music critic for the Washington Post

NPR's website featured an interview, yesterday, with Anne Midgette, the Washington Post's classical music critic.  I discovered Ms. Midgette a few months ago when I began my foray into Twitterdom and became one of her followers.  I was impressed by her ability to clearly state issues facing the classical musical world in twitter's famous 140-word miniature canvas.  And from her twitter site I discovered her blog which is also fabulous.  She asks great questions that I think anyone interested in classical music would find interesting whether music is their profession or their passion, or both.  Needless to say, when I saw someone's tweet go by that there was an interview with Anne Midgette on the state of classical music, I immediately stopped my twittering and delved into the interview.  In my opinion, it is fantastic and should be read by all.  I especially love her concluding comments:
I hope we see a continuation of the kind of revitalization in terms of the venues and performances.  I would love to see classical music be able to break out of its box a little bit.  I think one of the biggest handicaps is still the traditional format -- the idea of getting dressed up and going to a place with red, plush seats.  It's something I love sometimes and many people love sometimes, but there are ways to appreciate this music without doing that.  And it's music that has the ability to speak to a lot of people who don't know they will like it because it's not put in a place where they want to go hear it.
In all of my recent brainstorming, this exact topic has been on my mind...trying to think up alternative venues and situations for offering music (I even dislike using the word "perform" sometimes - it sounds so highbrow).  I was brought up going to concerts all the time so getting dressed up, going to concert halls, sitting in the dark and having to be quiet, all that is natural to me but why should it be natural to the majority of my friends that I went to high school with that weren't musicians?  Why should they want to spend their free time and their hard-earned money going to classical music concerts?

So this is what reading Anne Midgette does to me...great, isn't it?  Well, if you're in the mood for some good discussion yourself, read the rest of the interview yourself.  And if you need some one to discuss it with, you know who's willing to talk ;-)

Monday, November 16, 2009

An Outside-the-Box Recital: "Poe-ism" at Virginia Tech

This weekend my husband and I attended a recital at Virginia Tech that was unusually refreshing in many ways and I want to share some thoughts about it with folks here with the hope that it might inspire others as well to think outside the box. 

The recital was called "Poe-ism" and was comprised of chamber music based on the works of Edgar Allan Poe written for various combinations of soprano, piano, and cello.  The musicians were Ariana Wyatt, soprano, Benjamin Wyatt, cello, and Tracy Cowden, on piano.  They were joined for a couple of the works, by Patty Raun, who performed dramatic readings of several of the works on the program.  The works on the program were Henry Leslie's "Annabelle Lee," Charles Loeffler's "To Helen", Arthur Reginald Little's "Ulalume," Deodat de Severac's, "Un Reve," Daron Hagen's "A Dream Within a Dream," George Crumb's "The Sleeper," Beverly Martin's, "Edgar Allan Poe Songs," and then the world premiere of a work that was commissioned for this event, "Spirits of the Dead," a set of 5 songs, by Gregory J. Hutter.  Now I must admit that I have never been a big Poe fan so I wasn't quite sure how an entire recital of Poe-based pieces was going to work.  But from the beginning of the recital, I could sense the performers committment so I stuck with a positive attitude.  Then, early on in the program, they took the time to explain to the audience a bit of the history behind the recital and the process they went through in order to put it together which helped make me realize their complete investment at which point I was completely sold.  Smart musicians, at least in my mind.

So some other things that I thought are important to note...the program notes were fantastic; they were well-written, easy to ready, and interesting.  They also included the texts to all of the songs and readings even though most were in English anyway.  I appreciate having the text there because I like to read the words several times to really mull over their meaning while I'm listening to the music.  Also in the notes were a handful of images that had been procured from Virginia Tech's special collection's department.  It was a nice touch and I know how much extra time those extra touches can take to make happen. 

The audience turnout for this program was excellent, especially considering the unusually warm weather on Saturday night.  It was interesting to see that the audience spanned several different communities in the Blacksburg area that don't typically mingle and that is thanks to the fact that the musical artists themselves decided to collaborate in spite of the divisions that seem to plague this small Virginian town.  It just goes to show that music doesn't understand those types of boundaries.  I think that it was also clever to base a recital on a literary figure because that in itself might help draw a few more people into the hall who might not usually attend a classical music concert.  And having a faculty member from the drama department do dramatic readings would draw yet another crowd.  Brilliant! 

Well, I suppose that's all I can think of now to say about this recital, but congratulations to these colleagues for a wonderful night of music-making and more.  It's the "more" that for me, is the important part.  They created something unique on Saturday night that left me wanting more and for that I am very thankful.

For a link to the press release for this event, please click here

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Another link to a a fantastic article questioning the relevance of classical music

A while ago I came across this fantastic article on Terry Blackburn's webpage.  I don't personally know this man, but I find many ideas in this article thought-provoking.

My initial reaction upon hearing the question, "Is classical music relevant?," is to equate relevance with popularity and popularity with a larger, more enthusiastic audience.  But after reading this article, I began to see that perhaps such a focus is misguided.  It is good to be reminded that most of the music that has lived on in the classical music world has lived on not because of individuals but simply because the music itself seems to transcend time, culture, and trends.  So even though it may at times appear the audiences are dwindling in number and perhaps enthusiasm, I think it is important to take heart, stay encouraged, and continue on, reveling in the knowledge that what we do might not be popular, but really is relevant, at least to me.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

A must-read blog article that encourages me to press-on as an artist

Please take the time to read this incredible story about the famous pianist, Andre Watts, and his touching interaction with a fan of his.  It's worth reading the comments that readers have added at the end of the post.  There are even some links to some youtube clips of the Mr. Rogers episode that Mr. Watts was in. 


Accompanists as emissaries

After writing yesterday's post on the use of the terms "accompanist" and "collaborator," I couldn't stop feeling like I had not gone quite far enough in expressing how I important I feel my role is, whether I'm playing the Twinkle theme with a student or I'm playing a movement from a Vivaldi cello sonata. 

I grew up steeped in classical music because my parents loved it and thrived on it.  They weren't professional musicians themselves, but I believe that if they could have gone down that path, they would have.  But I don't think that the majority of young people today are in the same boat; classical music is not the default musical setting in most families' households.  And of course classical music is just not as present in society as a whole, especially not in the younger generations, in school, in movies, on television, in culture in general.  So when a child is learning an instrument, that is usually their only exposure to the music that I happen to love and understand.  That is why when I accompany them, I feel that if I want classical music to have any chance of making a mark on the child, I need to become an emissary of the music; I need to play in a way that helps the student feel as if this music has a point and a purpose.  Otherwise, what's the alternative?  Well, I've been on the other side.  On bad days, when I'm not in the mood, I've played the part of the grumpy accompanist who sits there and plays like a bored pianist banging out one Suzuki accompaniment after another.  And I don't think music has much of a point when played like this.  When music is presented like this, how can we expect little ones to want to keep playing if that's what they get up on stage?  And how can we to expect these same kids to be curious enough about classical music to want to go to a concert when they are a bit older? 

Perhaps I'm being a bit dramatic.  Perhaps I'm putting too much pressure on myself to turn such a simple job into a life-transforming one.  But you know what?  I think I'll go ahead and take that risk.  Because what I do know is that in the past couple years of working with these young kids in this way, with a lot of heart, care, and passion, I have witnessed a lot of moments that have brought me to tears.  I see little kids, every week, moved by classical music and that, to me, is hopeful.  And that drives me on. 

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Am I a collaborator or an accompanist?

A few decades ago, a pianist that provided accompaniment for instumentalists and/or singers was called an "accompanist".  These days, the term "collaborator" is sometimes used.  So which term do I prefer?  Sometimes it seems like such a loaded question but I wish it didn't have to be that way.  In my mind, I don't think that there is anything wrong with being "just" an accompanist and for many of the jobs I do, I actually prefer to see myself in that way.  I just looked up "to accompany" in good old Merriam-Webster's Online Dictionary and in addition to the obvious definition, "to perform an accompaniment to or for," it also says, "to go with as an associate or companion."  I especially like that second definition.  When I accompany younger musicians or people just starting out on an instrument, I feel that it is just as important to serve as a musical companion to the student as it is to play the right notes.  It is partly my job to help the student to get a sense of the thrill that performing and music-making can bring.   So when I accompany them, even if the piece is the most simple Suzuki tune, my goal is to support them in every way that I can and to also serve as that companion, always on the path to a more musical experience.  And the best thing about my job as an accompanist is that every so often, I get to experience a performance with a young musician where he or she reaches beyond the notes and journeys into the exciting world of music-making, full of heart-pumping excitement, passion-filled phrases, the give and take between instruments...When this happens, the experience always blows me away.  It it just as thrilling to collaborate with a young musician at a time like that as it is to collaborate with a colleague. 

So am I a collaborator or an accompanist?  I am proud to say - both!

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Concert etiquette or die?!

Last weekend I had the honor of accompanying one of my husband's voice students in his senior recital.  Since I had accompanied this young man the previous year in his junior recital, I already knew that he has a very supportive family which meant that his entire family would most likely be attending this most important performance.  That also meant that there would be several toddlers in attendance in addition to at least one baby.  I know, I know...I can hear your groans, grumbles, sighs, and lamentations now...but please, hold them for just one moment...I have, perhaps, an interesting perspective to share with you.  Let me tell you how the recital went from my viewpoint.

I have to admit that there definitely were more distractions than usual, especially at the beginning of the recital.  I was very aware of toddlers moving around, of talking, flashes of a camera going off...and I did have to work hard to concentrate, especially at the softer moments.  But there were two things that helped me stay focused...first of all, this young singer, who really is not all that experienced, just remarkably passionate about performing and who has an innate sense for being on the stage, was able to hold it together and remain focused in spite of the distractions.  Second of all, I knew that although I might not be playing specifically for those younger individuals and their parents, he was.  He wanted those people there and it meant the world for him to be able to share his music and this step of his musical journey with his family.  As soon as I keyed into those thoughts, I was back on track and in all honesty, I have no idea whether or not those kids even stayed in the hall -  I don't remember hearing them in the rest of the recital. 

In the past, I have always joined in the chorus when performers and audience members have bemoaned unsophisticated audiences.  And don't get me wrong.  I still think it's good to educate folks, especially young children, on concert etiquette.  What I found so interesting this weekend, however, is that it is possible to overcome distractions as a performer and that perhaps we need to be a bit more careful to think about how often we want to exclude unsophisticated audiences from performances.  It's a tricky topic because I realize it's not just the performers we need to keep in's also the other audience members that should be kept in consideration.'s all so tricky.