Monday, November 10, 2008

The "future" of classical music radio?

My casual carpool driver was playing KDFC Classical 102.1 FM on the way into work. They played some "new" music - the theme to "Back to the Future".

Can't... even... editorialize... so stunned....

Monday, August 4, 2008

Reprinted post: Richard Sparks on "Elitism" in choral music

Renowned choral conductor, Dr. Richard Sparks, makes some interesting comments on the negative connotations of "elitism" in classical music. With his permission, I am reprinting two of his recent posts on the subject from his blog, Richard Sparks - Music, Conducting, Choirs.

Monday July 28, 2008

The term "Elitism"

Mark Swed, music reviewer for the LA Times, writes a great piece on the word "elitism" and its use in other fields (athletics, for example) as opposed to the arts.

He opens the article with, "Every now and then, writers at The Times lose a word. Mainly these are adjectives subject to misuse. Some years ago we were advised to let go of legendary. Similarly, don't expect to see iconic, which has become equally cheapened, in the paper much anymore.

The adjectival criminal I'd like to see handed over to the word police is elitist, especially in its relationship to the arts and popular culture. In the "elitist" Oxford English Dictionary, the first definition of "elite" is the "choice part, the best (of society, a group of people, etc.)," none of which sounds so terrible. But that is not what is meant when, say, classical music, my field, is scorned as elitist, as it regularly is."

This has bothered me for a long time. "Elitism" in the arts usually implies "stuck up," "snobbish," or worse. Yet we speak of "elite athletes" with no problem.

The arts are often considered expensive, only available to the "elite," not the ordinary Joe. Yet if you look at the cost of attending professional sporting events, pop/rock concerts, or other parts of pop culture, prices are certainly as high or higher.

Salaries for professional athletes or artists in the entertainment world are far more "elite" than those in the arts.

So why is elite a bad word in the arts, yet not so in other areas?

I say it's time to reclaim the words "elite" and "elitism" for their proper place in popular culture for the arts.

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Sunday, August 3, 2008

Another elitism essay

Following on Mark Swed's column, Geoff Schumacher in the Los Vegas Review Journal writes about his own views. A short excerpt:

All this talk of elitism came to mind last week when I spent an hour in the company of Libby Lumpkin, director of the Las Vegas Art Museum. She gave me a tour of the museum's current exhibit, "Las Vegas Collects Contemporary," and discussed the challenge of educating Las Vegans about the merits of modern art.

Modern, or contemporary, art often is put in the same category as classical music: "elitist." In an essay in the museum's most recent newsletter, Lumpkin tackles the issue head on:

"It has been said that today's contemporary art community is an elitist society. Indeed it is. As elitist societies go, however, the contemporary art community is a peculiarly democratic one since anyone who wants to may join. Members come from almost every nation and ethnic background, and include nearly all income brackets, education levels and age groups. Only two essential criteria are required for participation: an openness to the concept that ideas are embodied by the forms artists create, and a willingness to confront objects that may challenge conventional wisdom, reshape cultural values or test assumptions about how we see."

Worth reading the whole article.

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Tuesday, June 24, 2008

A Dilettante Invasion? Rather, a manifesto?

This was originally part of a post on my personal blog. The original posting lost focus, so I decided to move this discussion over here... especially since I haven't posted anything here in quite some time.

Some may argue that part-time professional musicians like myself are selfish dilettantes who take away income from the more deserving full-time musicians. Objectively speaking, this is true. In fact, we dilettantes can even be accused of creating an artificially undervalued labor pool, making it even harder for our full-time brethren to make a living. I've often heard (muttered under one's breath...) "you don't see me trying to do physics on the side...". To this, I say, poo. I am going to be heartlessly capitalistic here, but if we dilettantes are talent-wise competitive with the full-timers, then we deserve to compete for the same gigs. Plus, I don't see us as being all that much of a threat. We are not as flexible time-wise, and thus cannot make the same commitments to work which the full-timers can make. (Regular day-time rehearsals? Week-long tours? Forget it). Also, many employers can tell from a resume whether an auditionee is part-time or full-time based on education and experience. In short, they can sniff out the dilettantes, and certainly weigh this information into their hiring decision.

Also, to those who say, "you don't see my doing physics on the side," I doubt that you are acting out of deference and respect for my commitment to my career. Rather, physics does not interest you, and physics as a vocation is not something that can be pursued on your own time. Music is just as difficult and "noble" a career as any other, but it is also one where there is no clear line drawn between occasional commitment and full vocation. It's a mixed blessing. Music in America is undoubtedly healthier because each and every one of us has the right to fantasize about "making it" (look no further than American Idol), but certainly, emerging professionals suffer when such thinking increases the competitiveness of the hiring pool. Is it better to be an emerging professional in a more socialist government (i.e. any western european state) where professional singing opportunities are more regulated? (Well, certainly can't complain in the short term about State subsidization of classical music.)

This surely reveals a glaring chip on my shoulder and some of the personal issues which I have with taking myself seriously as a part-time musician, but nevertheless is an active area of debate in my mind. Any comments?

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Congestion on the Choral Highway

Late February / early March is a very popular time for choral concerts. Why is this? My top guess is that this is when musicians and audiences have regathered their forces after the Christmas Choral Season for the next round. Unfortunately, it makes for weekends that are as compacted as those in December. This year, we also have the Song of Peace project adding events to the schedule. Here is the Bay Area, there are all too many wonderful selections to pick from over the next two weekends. I dont know if I will be able to attend any outside of those which I am engaged to perform in.

Feb 29 - March 3:
American Bach Soloists
California Bach Society
Sacred & Profane
Schola Cantorum San Francisco
Sonoma Valley Chorale (SF Performance)

March 7 - March 9:
Cantare Chorale
Chora Nova
SF Bach Choir
St. Mark's Episcopal Church of Berkeley Chancel Choir & Temple Sinai Choir

If it weren't for the Song of Peace initiative, I would shake my head and say "People! You can't all sing at the same time and each expect to get a good audience!" Hopefully the initiative will be driving more audience members to choral events this spring. Its for a great reason.

On a side note- I see that some groups spread their concerts over multiple weekends. My guess is that this does help. I speak for myself, but I usually only have the energy to go to one concert a weekend. If I'm already engaged on Friday, I still wont make it to your Saturday or Sunday show- but I may well be able to make the one that you are giving next weekend. This is understandably harder on the performing group, especially if artists travel from out of town to do the gig.

On the bright side, perhaps its a sign of general good health in the choral world if so many fabulous groups are all able to perform at the same time. We are lucky in the Bay Area to have such a vibrant choral community. I wish many broken legs to all the singers out there.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Song of Peace: March 2008

Next month, the 5th anniversary of the latest US-led war in Iraq, choruses and choirs from around the globe will come together singing songs of peace. Rather than organize one mega-concert, choirs are showcasing songs of peace in their respective home-town concerts, raising awareness of the need for peace in these troubled times. Not only is this message stated in the lyrics of the music sung, but the music itself, should be a balm for peace.

This effort is being launched and documented by the creators of the Song of Peace website. This page lists participating choirs and concerts. There look to be somewhere between 50-60 documented performances in the works. The local Bay Area effort is documented in this Song of Peace blog. Would the contributor be willing to give an inside report on his or her group's preparation for their concert?

The mix of classical music and social/political/charitable issues is never guaranteed to be synergistic. In part, this is due to the perception that classical music lives in this refined bubble that has little to do with the rough and dirty workings of the real world. We go to classical music concerts to be transported away from all the bother and annoyance of our mundane lives- to dress in our opera frocks and experience refinement. ...or on a more serious note, to lift ourselves up and out of the bleakness and tragedy that fills the world, and attacks us from all angles. As I said... this is the perception. I think that this perception will only accelerate the demise of the relevance of classical music today. Pop musicians have been championing geopolitical/social causes for years, and with great success.

I believe that choral music lends itself incredibly well to furthering the cause of peace. I hope to make it to one of the local concerts.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Jorge Liderman

On Sunday February 3, UC Berkeley Professor of Music and composer Jorge Liderman was hit by a train at the El Cerrito Plaza bart station (north of Berkeley) and was killed. Joshua Kosman (SF Chronicle) reports on the tragedy here.

I had been fortunate enough when I was a member of the UC Berkeley Chamber Chorus to perform two of his large-scale choral works. Sephardisms II, an a cappella setting of Sephardic folk songs, was very rewarding to sing. In 2002, I was part of the world premiere of Song of Songs, a symphonic cantata for chamber orchestra, soprano, tenor, and womens' chorus. The work was beautiful. In both cases, we got to work directly with Professor Liderman. He clearly understood the voice and loved writing for it. I know that his music will survive him and will continue to touch others.

Friday, February 1, 2008

Mercury Soul & self-expression at classical music events

Back in October, I mused on the audience member's experience at music events, comparing traditional format classical concerts with pop music concerts / club-nights.


Tonight, at Club Mezzanine in San Francisco, three intrepid artists are putting together a hybrid classical music / electronica / multi media event called Mercury Soul. The show features 20th/21st century chamber music of Ligeti, Webern, Nancarrow, Bates and others, performed by members of the SF Chamber Orchestra conducted by Benjamin Schwartz, interspersed with electronica DJ'ed by composer Mason Bates (aka DJ Masonic). Stage designer Anne Patterson completes the experience with stunning visuals. While classical music is the cornerstone of the mix, the format will be 100% club. Attendees can do whatever they want while the music is going; stand, dance, talk, drink, flirt, play pool, leave, come back...

I wont expound on the impact of the event, as this has been done quite well in this week's edition of San Francisco Classical Voice.