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.

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Performing - it really is about more than mere numbers

Image from Wikimedia Commons
"How many?"

That's a question I hear a lot in so many different aspects of my life.

"How many followers do you have on twitter?"
"How many friends on facebook?"
"How many people read last night's blog post?"
"How many degrees do you have?"
"How many students do you have?"
"How many people were at the recital?"

I'm going to come right out and say that I really don't like that question because the answer generally means nothing.  The answer means nothing yet it can be so filled with disappointment, a sense of not doing quite well enough, of not feeling worthy.  And with that comes distraction away from what really does matter to me - having opportunities to do what I love to do, doing my best at whatever I put my hand to, acknowledging that I am human and will always have something to learn, building relationships with people around me, building a loving family, and being grateful for all the incredible things life brings my way.  That, to me, is what is important.  

As a professional musician living in a very small town, I don't often have to deal with the numbers game when it comes to performing and I'm thankful for that.  We don't have any venues that seat more than a couple hundred people at a time, if that, and the list of places in which one can perform is quite small.  I'm learning to play whenever, wherever.  Although this reality doesn't necessarily match up to what I envisioned growing up as a young musician in San Francisco, it suits me perfectly.  Living here is encouraging me to discover other ways of evaluating what I do and is taking the pressure off of being a commodity that comes with its own nerve-wracking, unstable and often unreliable statistics.  

Performing in intimate spaces that allow me to actually see the people in the audience; having the time and opportunity to talk with audience members before, during, and after a performance so that I can really sense who they are and what makes them tick; the freedom to play music that I really want to play; breathing room so that I feel like I can try new things, even in a performance situation - these are the things that are keeping me up "on stage," whether or not there's an actual stage, and loving every moment.  

Is this possible elsewhere?  Is my situation unique?  Yes and no, I suppose.  I realize that I am fortunate indeed to be able to work as a musician without worrying about paying the bills.  Thanks to a husband with a full-time job, I don't have to play the numbers game in order to put food on the table.  But I have noticed that the music world is seeing a trend right now with an increase in the number of small venue and alternative performance situations - house concerts, bars, pubs, small concert's a trend that I find very encouraging and exciting.  It also makes me think that I'm not the only musician out there wanting a different scenario for performing, that I'm not the only musician that is about to hurl the abacus out the window.  

So for now, I am going to embrace the evolution my expectations have had in regards to being a performer and I'm going to only bother counting when I'm in the practice room.

Anyone care to join me?

Friday, May 27, 2011

Lessons about artistic perfection from a glassblower's studio

I love the fact that anyone can choose, should they desire, to learn something from anything, anywhere, anytime.  I'm a thinker so my "aha" moments tend to fill my days and nights so when this past week my husband and I decided to go on a little getaway to nearby Staunton, Virginia, I very purposefully set out to make this an "aha-free" vacation.  

You can guess how that little experiment went.

Photo by Mogens Engelund,
 from Wikimedia Commons
The place of my most terrible intellectual crime occurred at a glassblower's studio downtown called Sun Spots Studios.  It is one of those places where you can actually sit and watch artists at work.  I don't know how long we were in there, maybe 20 minutes or so, but I was completely mesmerized the entire time watching this artisan work with glass and I walked out of there with my mind buzzing.  What I was most obsessed with were the similarities I was seeing between blowing glass and performing a piece of music.  Here is a rough recreation what went through my mind.

  • I wonder if he gets frustrated trying to make the object he is making perfect - I'm not sure if all glassblowers work like this, but the one we were watching worked really quite quickly and I could tell that while he was rolling the glass or shaping the glass, he was constantly assessing the state of his piece of art.  But probably because of the fact that he was dealing with molten glass that was quickly cooling and hardening, he couldn't spend much time analyzing what to do next. He seemed to stay in a constant state of motion, acting perhaps on his gut reactions instead.  Perhaps in performances, this is also a healthy state of being.  Not dwelling on what isn't quite right but instead trusting my body, my mind, my ears to react in an artful, appropriate way. 
  • Can a piece of hand-blown glass even be perfect?  What would a perfectly blown piece of glass look like? - A piece of glass made by an artisan is a piece of art.  And that piece of art is all about a creative process, about the engagement between an artist and a piece of material, in this case, molten glass.  So is perfection even really an issue?  I don't think it can be.  Watch a glassblower and you'll see why.  It is hard stuff to work with and can vary based on the weather, the humidity, or the temperature.  It became clear to me very quickly that producing a perfect piece of art would be impossible.  And isn't this the case as well with music?  Is there a point in being "perfect" or is it the process, the creative process, the personal touch of the musician that is what causes someone in the audience to listen and say, "Ah, yes...this speaks to me." 
  • Does the glassblower have an idea in his head of what he wants to end up with in the end? - While he was working, the glassblower narrated a bit of what was going through his mind as he worked.  As he started, he picked several colors of glass chips that he wanted to incorporate into his creation but as those colors started to melt into the molten glass he started with, he kept saying things like, "'s not ending up quite as red as I had thought it would" or "This all may end up a lot brighter after it cools."  So I gather from these insights into his process, that he may have had a very general idea of what he wanted, he knows the techniques behind his art, but in the end, he didn't really know how it was going to turn out.  Perhaps this would be an interesting approach to performing as well.  Instead of planning out every dynamic, every nuance, every sound that I want to hear on stage, perhaps it would be better to accept that art can only be planned so much in advance.  Maybe leaving some mystery in the end result can be a good thing and would relieve some of the pressure to have in the end a perfect, as-planned product.    
  • What does a glassblower do when something doesn't go quite as planned? - One of the last parts the glassblower worked on was the vase's neck and opening.  Using a blow torch to concentrate heat on that specific part, he kept trying to shape the opening as evenly as possible.  Throughout the process he kept shaking his head, reheating, and trying again.  It seemed he couldn't get it quite as narrow and short as he wanted.  In the end, he seemed to quickly change his mind, reshaping the opening to be fluted instead of being just a smooth circular opening.  Having watched the whole process, I knew that this was a bit of an improvisation on his part but for any other visitor, who hadn't seen it, they wouldn't know that the fluted opening was, in some ways, a "mistake."  Audiences don't know what is in my mind before I go up on stage so who's going to know if I need to improvise a bit here and there?  And in the end, whatever I end up with will be a piece of art.
  • A glassblower's creations don't disappear after being created - they are sent to the showroom, to galleries, to be admired and sold.  I imagine there are some pieces that never make it past the studio, but at least at this studio, it seems that most of what is created ends up before the eyes of others, and for a very long time.  They are not hidden away, or considered embarrassing because of tiny flaws, an unexpected hue, or lack of perfect symmetry.  They are all pieces of art and they all have the possibility of catching someone's eye.  If glassblowers can release all of their creations in this way, than why shouldn't I?  Why should I feel sheepish about performing a less-than-perfect program, especially since in a perfect program is, in my mind, impossible anyway.  Instead, I should create and release that creation knowing full well that it has the capability to mean something to someone.  
Create and release.  Accept that there are other factors involved in the creation of a piece of art other than myself and release myself from the need to be a perfect creator.  Perhaps if I can do these things I'll be less squeamish about sitting and listening to my own musical performances with a more accepting ear. 

The things I learn on vacation.  When I'm not supposed to be thinking.

Sigh...maybe next time.  

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Learning from musical kids being kids - Just being myself

I am thankful to be living where we are.  After growing up in San Francisco and living in many other culturally busy parts of the country, some folks seem shocked that I can stand living here; that I find myself thriving musically; that I have enough to do to keep my insatiable musical appetite satisfied.  But it's true.  And so much of what feeds me is the inspiration I get from the young musical kids I work with on a daily basis.  As I talked about in my last post, my passion for telling stories through music has been reignited since moving to a more rural community and today I want to share what I've learned about just being myself when I'm performing and when I'm doing anything related to music.

Most of the kids here do not grow up steeped in classical music.  We are surrounded by bluegrass and celtic bands and musical jams of all sorts in the local restaurants and in the smaller communities around us are regular occurrences.  I just discovered that a young cellist friend of mine, a teenager, has recently been invited to stop by and join in with a celtic band that rotates between eateries in the different counties around here.  She's a teen, they're grown adults, but that's just the way it is around here and her willingness to put herself out there, to try something different, has really made an impression on me. And she's not the only one, really.

This weekend I attended a small, intimate performance given by two young cellists.  The younger one is somewhat serious in her cello studies but what she really seems passionate about is singing and poetry.  At this performance she chose to sing a few songs while accompanying herself on her cello.  These were beautiful ballads that I was not surprisingly unfamiliar with but that shocked me with their incredible depth of emotion.  And here was this young girl truly doing something she loved, but that wasn't such an easy thing to do.  In one of the songs she played with her mother who was playing guitar and both sang, with the young girl singing harmony along with accompanying them both.  It was an unbelievable experience to be a part of because hearing her play and sing felt like looking through a window into this girl's heart and soul.  I know that classical music can also sometimes do this, but I don't know how else to explain it - this was different.  Or was it?

I know so many younger people here that are easily able to slide between one genre and another and what I find so important about this is that what they're doing in the end is making a way with music that is entirely their own.  It represents them, their talents, their interests.  They don't seem to worry about whether or not they have enough experience or training.  They try it and it just happens - no feelings of right or wrong, no worries in the end, because what really matters is the experience and the musician's presence, not perfection or success.

Ahem.  I can't say that's happened much thus far in my personal musical life.  But that's not to say that I'm not trying to learn from these open-minded kids.

My dear cowgirl puppet!
I haven't gone out on a limb myself yet and joined a local jam session but what I have started to do is not worry about genres, labels, or expectations.  I feel, I play, I love, without concern for my reputation as a classical musician and all that stereotypically entails.  And what I'm discovering is that although I love music and am very serious about it, I am still largely a kid when I can and want to be.  I don't want to shy away from being lighthearted and silly when the music and the situation allows.  Last year, at a performance given by a local cello studio, I chose to play Lukas Foss' Capriccio on the cello, which to me brings to mind images of cowboys and horses doing their thing on the prairie.  I had recently found a hilarious, spunky cowgirl puppet at our local toy store and decided that she would simply have to join me on stage for the performance, precariously sitting on top of my scroll.  Was I a bit nervous about this?  You bet.  Did I think twice (or three times) about following through?  You bet.  Did it make it slightly challenging to play?  Yep. But in the end I went through with it and I'm so glad I did because it enabled that performance to truly represent me and why I loved the piece as much as I did.  And guess what, people smiled!  People smiled!!  That, my friends, made it worth it because the piece has always made me smile.  

So you heard it here, folks.  I am trying on a daily basis to be more of who I am when I'm at the piano or cello and to be ok with that.  I'm trying to realize that people actually like who I am, both as a person and as a musician, without the stereotypical classical music cape of seriousness and sophistication.  Yes, much of the time I have that cape on, but I'm warning you, I may just toss it all off when you least expect it in honor of what I've learned from all these kids that surround me.  

Anyone want to join me?

To read the first blog post in this series:
Learning from musical kids being kids - Telling a story

Monday, May 16, 2011

Learning from musical kids being kids - Telling a story

One of my own drawings from the Ravel G major piano concerto.
And yes, it's backwards.
I seem to be doing this more and more as I grow older...sigh.  It's just like life in so many ways - when we're young, we want to play the part of the older person and when we grow old, we want to be young again.  Well, thankfully with music, it seems that being young at heart has its place.  In fact, it might even have quite a few benefits, especially these days, as many bemoan the tendency for classical music to be seen as elitist, snobby, and, well, downright boring to some.  

I think my turn down this particular path came a few years ago when I started getting back into  the freelance world again.  Frequently working with young kids now, I am constantly being reminded of how music, especially classical music, looks and sounds through the ears of a child.  After many years in grueling music school life, where one is often judged simply by the difficulty of the repertoire one is playing, followed by several years working primarily in the college setting as a collaborator, this change of pace is, to say the least, refreshing at both a personal and musical level.  It helps me to remember what music is and isn't all about.  In the next few posts, I'll be sharing what I've discovered.  Today I'll start with one of my favorites...

Music is about telling a story.  When I was young, I almost always came up with stories to run behind whatever piece of music I was learning.  My music was filled with little drawings that kept the notes alive for me both during practice sessions and during performances and I was always eager to relate those stories and drawings to others.  I don't know quite when that stopped.  I know I was still doing it a bit in college, much to the amusement of one of my piano professors.  Fortunately this particular teacher was also still young at heart so she too joined in the fun at times, sometimes sticking a sticker smack in the middle of my music that represented how she felt about a particular part.  But after that, for whatever reason, I let a lot of that creativity go.  Now, working with kids again, the joy of animating music is being sparked in me once again.  

Recently I accompanied a young girl on one of her Suzuki book recitals.  These recitals are humongous deals in the Suzuki world and for good reason.  These kids get up and perform an entire book by memory with recitals sometimes taking up to 30 minutes without any breaks at all.  This one girl I was accompanying decided that she needed to do something to make this event more meaningful for her.  She came up with a storyline to connect one song to another and to unite all of the songs in that one book, in spite of the fact that they really have nothing to do with one another.  She then wrote down the program and drew pictures to illustrate her story.  Here's what she came up with:

I had no idea that this young cellist had done this until I got to the recital.  Grabbing the program before I walked backstage to greet her, I casually looked down to remind myself of what we were doing and I stopped dead in my tracks.  I couldn't believe what I was seeing even though what I was seeing was simply an honest extension of what this young musician felt about the music she was about to share.  When I got backstage I sat down and asked her to tell me about the pictures and she said, with a bright smile that made her face glow, "Oh, they're not just pictures, it's a story."  She proceeded to give me a blow-by-blow, pointing to each picture as we got to that part of the story and even humming bits of the songs to help me place what she was describing.  Well I have to tell you, by the end of this little personal moment, I had a lump in my throat and tears in my eyes.  What I had imagined was going to be yet another replay of the same book recital that I've done many, many times, was obviously not going to be just that.  And this moment reminded me that there can be so much more to music than just the notes or even just a set of general feelings and emotions.  

And the recital?  Did this young girl's creative imagination improve her memory or make her performance a "perfect" performance?  Well, I don't know.  There were still slips here and there but that's just the reality of performance for anyone.  For me, it was a wonderful recital and a heart-warming experience because not only did we hear some great cello playing but we also learned and experienced a great deal more of who this girl is in more than just a musical way.  

So am I going to start drawing pictures in my music once again?  I don't know.  I guess you'll just have to pull me aside next time you see me and ask to see my music.  You never know what you might find there! 

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Day 2 of learning "Ballet of the Chicks" in 5 minutes a day

Image of the manuscript for "Ballet of the Chicks in their Shell,"
from Wikimedia Commons
Well, OK.  Maybe not 5 minutes a day - that's been too hard to do since I just love practicing.  It just doesn't sound as good to say "9 minutes a day" or "8 minutes and 30 seconds a day."  Ha ha! 

So here's day 2 of my "Ballet of the Chicks" project, complete with some wrong notes here and there - gulp!   Before I set into practicing, I decided to spend about 4 minutes reviewing the previous day's material, concentrating on the two passages I had marked as being the most challenging.  After that I would move on to the short and sweet trio which proved to be much, much easier.  

I think the video is pretty self-explanatory but here a few techniques I used quite a bit today:
  • I use a standard set of rhythms to practice the difficult passages.  I've done these particular rhythms for years so it's like second nature to me now.  As for why I do them, it's because I find that they help to uncover any hidden weaknesses, either because of me not really knowing the notes, a not-so-good fingering, not understanding why the composer wrote what he did, whatever.  It also keeps my brain engaged and helps me to hear lines in the notes that I might not otherwise hear.  
  • I also religiously follow a rule of mine in this video.  When I make a mistake, I stop, figure out what's wrong, correct it, and then repeat the problem spot at least 3 times in a row perfectly.  No questions asked.  If I make a mistake again, it's back to square one.  
  • I make sure that I'm always playing at a tempo at which my mind can be completely relaxed and engaged.  The minute I feel a brain spasm, freak-out, or dead zone, I stop, slow down, and start again.
  • If there's something in the music I just don't get, like an accidental that surprises me or a change in a pattern, I play around with the music in order to make sense of it in some way.  I will often re-write the music, playing it the way I would have expected it to be, and this often reveals why the composer is the composer, not me.  After doing this little experiment I have no doubt what the music should be and then that problem spot is rarely a problem ever again.  It's like getting in the mind of the composer.  Kind of fun and educational.

There you have it.  All the notes are now learned.  I'm not sure whether or not I'll post anymore annotated practice videos of this particular piece, especially since it takes a lot of time to put them together.  Feel free to let me know whether or not these videos have been helpful and whether or not you'd enjoy seeing more of these.  I'd also love to hear any questions or comments you might have since practicing provides a never-ending opportunity for improvement and learning. 

Monday, May 9, 2011

Learning a piece of music in 5 minutes a day - day 1

photo by Hannes Grobe,
from Wikimedia Commons
This is the second time in my life that I've found myself only having literally 5 minutes a day to practice my instrument and I think I'm starting to get the hang of it.  The first time was during my graduate school days at Eastman.  I had developed tenosynovitis in the process of preparing for my senior recital the previous year and found that I couldn't play for even a few minutes anymore.  It was a devastating time for me and someday, in another blog post, I'll go into details about that whole period of time.  But for now, I just want to focus on what I learned to do in response to the very little time I actually had to practice following such an injury because I quickly learned that if I wanted to get anything done at all I had delve into some major strategic thinking.  Analysis became crucial and having a plan for each practice session was imperative.  In a period of 5 minutes, wasting 30 seconds of your time (the time it takes to just run through your favorite phrase a couple of times) means wasting 10% of your entire practice time.  My school was very patient with my recovery but they didn't stop time for me - I still had to give a degree recital in spite of me being in the middle of my recovery.  I had to find a way to learn a recital's worth of music in very small increments of practice time.

A month of so ago, I fell down some stairs and sprained my left rest.  Ugh.  It was time to go through a similar process of healing.  After about one month, I'm starting to feel like I can start playing again but as with my college years, I have yet another performance to prepare for - a mini-recital for our daughter's kindergarten class.  I've picked some very do-able music considering where I am physically but as with my previous recovery, I'm having to figure out how to do it in short increments and in a way that will continue to allow my hand to heal.  I'm being reminded yet again of the necessity for careful planning, pattern recognition, and any other tool I can use to maximize every single second of my 5-minute practice sessions.

Since I talk about many of these issues a lot in this blog, I thought it might be interesting to videotape my 5-minute (give-or-take) practice sessions and to annotate the videos so that others can see into my thought processes regarding practicing.  I think they will show some of the things I preach a lot:
  • searching for patterns to speed up the process of learning
  • practicing without mistakes
  • practicing slowly
  • practicing with rhythms
  • practicing with a steady pulse with little, or preferably no, hesitation
  • stopping when I sense my brain is not relaxed and processing comfortably
  • practicing at least somewhat musically
  • using thoughtful repetition (always having my mind engaged & thinking about what I've been learning) 
I will try to post on a daily basis until I have this particular piece, Mussorgsky's "Ballet of the Chicks in their Shell" from Pictures at an Exhibition, learned.  Without further ado, here is day 1 of my 5 minutes a day practice series.

Other posts about practicing:
Tapping into the video game world when practicing
A lesson learned about practicing while gardening
Addicted to practicing
Look before you play: a sleuthful approach to learning music
Learning to "Leave Los Vegas" when it comes to practicing

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

An open letter to young musicians at jury time

Dear young musicians in school,

It's that time of year already, isn't it?  Jury time.  

Those words still make me shudder and make that familiar knot in my stomach present itself once again.  But almost 20 years after my very last jury (yes, they do end!), after playing for many others in their juries and listening to my music professor husband talk about the experience of being on the grading and comment-writing side of the table, I have come up with some tips for getting through juries that I like to share with anyone who will listen.

In advance of the jury, play for as many people as you possibly can, wherever, whenever.  Do not let your teacher's studio or the jury itself be the first place you've performed your repertoire.  Teachers, especially these days, seem to be very good about providing mock jury situations for their students but I don't think this can be overdone.  There is such a difference between performing a piece for the very first time and playing it the third or fourth times and that difference can make or break a jury performance.  Professionals rarely feel good about their first few performances of any given piece so why should you expect yourself to?

Spend time thinking away from your instrument, dreaming, singing, and breathing your music.  In the final weeks of preparation it's amazing how far away from the purpose of the music we can find ourselves.  I find that spending time doing this instead of woodshedding in panic-mode can make a world of difference when you sit down to perform.  Pull yourself out of that perfectionistic self and remind yourself why you play music in the first place.  

Ask yourself how much work has gone into the past year (or semester).  Unless you really haven't lifted a finger the entire time, chances are you've put a lot of effort and time into learning your instrument.  Rest on that truth.  If you've put it in the time and done so in a reasonably constructive way, it would be hard for you not to show any improvement.  Which leads to...

Remember what the purpose of the jury is.  Usually the purpose of a jury is for the jurors to see how a musician has improved over the course of a period of time.  It is not to prove you can deliver a "perfect" performance since that could really never happen unless there is a miracle, in which case, you fall to the ground and thank your lucky stars.  Juries are to show that you are trying, working, and growing.  And if those things aren't true for you, you're not trying, working, and growing, then juries are a time to ask yourself why.  Perhaps music is not what you really want to be doing, perhaps it doesn't motivate you, in which case juries are a good time to figure out that there might be something else out there that motivates you more.  There's nothing wrong with that realization! 

Ask yourself, "What is the worst thing that can happen?" Although this is a legitimate cognitive therapy exercise, it may seem insane to some.  Why think of the very worst?  Won't that just make you even more nervous?  Well, let's give it a go.  What are some of the worst things that can happen?  You can have a memory slip.  Oooooo...I think that's happened to just about everyone, including the cream of the crop.  So you might have to start again, you might have to get some guidance to get back on track.  What else?  You could miss a note here or there.  Um, yep.  That's going to happen.  Your hands or other body parts might shake.  So breathe and take your time to ready yourself.  And if that shaking alters your playing a bit, that's ok.  It's happened to us all.  What else?  You could, um, what else could go wrong?  Isn't that about all?

And remember, the people sitting in on your jury have all been in your shoes.  They get it.  

Put yourself in the place of the juror and be determined to do your best to entertain and/or move them by your performance.  Most juries are held in a marathon fashion with professors having to spend an entire day or two listening to days worth of juries.  And not only do they have to listen but often times they are also expected to provide written comments.  Yikes!  So why not walk in there ready to break up the dreariness of all.  Go in there and knock there socks off with a fabulous performance.  Strive to sweep them away with the magic that is music so that they forget about that pen or pencil that is poised at the ready in their exhausted hands. 

Treat the jury as a chance to perform.  An extension of the previous point, see the jury as a chance to make music not just a time to prove your worth.  While you're playing, take the time to listen to yourself as well, as if you were in the audience.  It's amazing how freeing that can be.  In some cases, like when I had my jury in an acoustically exquisite hall in school,  juries gave me a chance to enjoy such an incredible place to perform.  Concentrating on those things can do wonders to nerves and might even make your jury slightly enjoyable.  Fancy that! 

Remember that usually the jurors only want the best for you.  Try not to see them as a firing squad.  I realize there might be some unfortunate exceptions to this, but generally professors want to see students succeed, especially when they've been putting in the hard work required in the musical profession.  They are energized by seeing young musicians improving over time and developing into their own musical selves.  There are occasions when teachers might not pass a student but more often than not, such an incident doesn't come as a surprise to that particular student and it's usually a sign that perhaps a change needs to be made.  

With all this said, I wish you all the very best during this jury season.  Remember, it's just one short step in a very long and rewarding journey.

All the best,
your faithful collaborator

If you want to read more about stage-fright and anxiety:
Dealing with stage-fright by taking a cue from your audience
Manners for your mind...a lesson in controlling mind-games
Personal checklist for keeping performing anxiety-free
Personal checklist for keeping performing anxiety-free, Part 2
Personal checklist for keeping performing anxiety-free, Part 3
Personal checklist for keeping performing anxiety-free, final part

Would you prefer to read this post in French?  A colleague in France was kind enough to translate it for use on the blog, "Humeur Piano."  Here is the link:

Quelques remarques à l’approche des auditions devant un jury

Monday, May 2, 2011

A bouquet of online inspiration for classical music minds

Photo from Wikimedia Commons
In case you haven't already figured this out, I am determined to be optimistic and even excited about what's going on in the classical music scene these days.  And to continue my mini blog post series on the topic, I want to share a list of places to go on the web that feed my positive attitude on a regular basis.  Please note that on most of these websites you can find links to videos and recordings which will further inspire anyone.  And as with the list of inspirational twitterers and videos that I've posted, my list is not comprehensive - it's just the tip of the iceberg.  If any readers have anything to add to the list, please do feel free to add them via the comment section at the end of the post.  The more the merrier!

The first links are to sites that have to do with professional musicians being involved with the community in a direct way.  In other words, they are musicians that work alongside amateurs and young musicians.  I feel passionately about the need for this type of work to expand to an almost epidemic scale.

  • Pittsburgh Symphony Community Side-by-Side event - an event held annually in which community members and orchestra members rehearse and perform side-by-side.
  • Citizen Musician Initiative - an initiative led by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, their director Riccardo Muti, and cellist Yo-Yo Ma that aims to "acknowledge and celebrate acts of citizen musicianship, increase awareness of the existence and value of this work and encourage more connections between musicians and communities."
  • Community Musicworks - a program started by the Providence String Quartet whose aim is to "create a cohesive urban community through music education and performance that transforms the lives of children, families, and musicians."  This project was brought to my attention thanks to an NPR story about quartet member Sebastian Ruth, who was a 2010 MacArthur grant recipient.  
  • El Sistema USA - Venezuela's now famous program of teaching music to the country's poorest youth, the LA Phil's Gustavo Dudamel being one of its students, has now worked its way into the USA via the New England Conservatory of Music.
  • Da Capo Institute - Making Musical Communities - a fine example of a community music organization that makes music education an integral part of their community.  I especially find their "Da Capo Way" page, which explains the philosophies behind their organization, noteworthy.  

The next set of links are to sites and blogs of individual musicians, artists, and organizations.

  • James Westover, symphonic photochoreography - I find the work of this photographer absolutely breathtaking and the combination of visual elements with musical performance has always inspired me.  I also think that in this day and age, giving an audience multiple ways to connect with a piece of music can be helpful and incredibly powerful.  
  • Wayne McEvilly, pianist - one of the most inspirational people I follow on twitter.  A wonderful pianist that has a passion for providing classical music to children through libraries and schools.  He believes in the transformative power of music and does what he can to ensure that all have access to it.  
  • Emerge Already: Jade Simmons, pianist - another pianist that is actively thinking outside-the-box when it comes to how we present ourselves in performance situations.  She has many videos, including a wonderful Tedx talk, that help musicians take the initiative to create their own, personalized, relevant career.  
  • James Rhodes, pianist - a pianist that is approaching his career from a different angle.  He seems to be doing it the way he wants to do it, without worrying about tradition and expectations from others.  It's very inspiring and encouraging to see him just being himself and being successful at it.  
  • Anderson and Roe, piano duo - this website is refreshingly fun, lighthearted, and entertaining.  These talented, young pianists welcome interaction with their viewers and have some wonderful ideas about presenting classical music in a way that will not scare away those that might not be as familiar with it.  I particularly love their "Listening Manifesto."
  • Marion Harrington, clarinet - a clarinetist from Spain that has returned to the music world after years of working in the business world.  She and I share so many similar philosophies about music-making, especially in regards to the need to shed the crippling robe of perfectionism when it comes down to performing and recording.  Her blog is an education since she not only is a creative musician but also because of her background in business.  She has another new blog, Zero 2 Maestro, where she and others post articles to encourage others to pursue their dreams as she is currently doing.  
  • All Piano, blog of Catherine Shefksi, pianist - as she says on her blog, Catherine is a pianist and teacher who is all about "keeping piano lessons relevant for the new generation" and I believe she is doing a great job doing that.  She has written a book about this topic called, Go Play, that is downloadable for free and that I recommend for anyone that works with young musicians.  I think the type of thinking she engages in on a regular basis is crucial if we want to sustain the younger generations' interest in pursuing music.  
  • PROJECTTrio - an unlikely combination of instruments, double bass, cello, and flute, this trio, I discovered them after stumbling over a video of a performance of Peter and the Wolf that they have performed.  The flutist is well-known for his beatboxing flute antics and lend a wonderful addition to their performances.  They do a lot of outreach into schools so their work has given me many ideas in regard to performing for little ones.
  • Classical Revolution - this link is not to the organization's main website but is a good place to go to get the gist of what this group is all about.  Their facebook page simply states that the group provides "chamber music for the people."  The revolution is taking the country, and possibly the world, by storm and is taking classical music into unique spaces and situations, all in the spirit of community.  Click here for a video that talks about what they do - it's a bit hard to hear but worth it. 
  • Classical House Concerts - this is something I'm just getting into but house concerts seem to be getting more and more popular as performers seem to want an alternative to the traditional large, impersonal venues.  I list this particular site as an example of what house concerts are all about and as a way to for musicians to get started down this avenue should they be interested.  
  • Sympho - an ensemble led by Paul Haas, who is constantly trying new, creative things to inspire both audiences and the performers themselves.  I am constantly checking in with them to see what they have come up with.  
  • Sandow on the future of classical music - blog for Greg Sandow as he's writing his book about the future of classical music.  Although I don't always agree with everything there, he brings up a lot of interesting points as do the readers that frequently comment on his posts.  He has also been including reports of new things that many musicians and organizations are trying.  
  • Audience Development Specialists - blog for Audience Development Specialist, Shoshana Fanizza.  Based in Colorado, I regularly have wonderful discussions with Shoshana that never fail to get me thinking and that constantly inspire me.  Many of those same topics are addressed on this blog.  On April 28, we held a twitter interview/discussion about the role of the individual musician in building audiences within the community.  Click here for a transcript if you're interested.  
  • Killing Classical Music - "dedicated to rescuing the world's best music from a slow, certain death at the hands of tired traditions and oppressively ordinary thought."  This site is run by composer, writer, and musical entrepeneur,  Grant Charles Caput, and is full of thought-provoking posts.
  • Take a Friend to the Orchestra program - an annual event during the month of April on the Adaptistration blog (a very wonderful blog, by the way!)  Professionals from across the classical music industry write about experiences of taking friends that don't normally attend classical music concerts to orchestra performances.  There is a lot to learn from these writings in addition to them being just plain fun, inspirational, and thought-provoking to read.  
Although I wish I could go on and on, I think I will stop there...for now.  But stick around.  You never know when I might come up with something else!  And don't forget, if you have something to share that's relevant to the cause, please do share.  

Oh, and one last little question...

Are you inspired yet?

Other posts in this series on inspiration in the classical music world:
Keeping eyes, ears, and minds wide open
More than meets the ears - visual and aural treats to inspire