Sunday, September 30, 2007

Conformity and Uniformity

I had Klinton Helms as my companion at the Alabama Symphony Concert last night. Chris Leitten was also there, but sat where he could see the piano soloist's hands. What a pleasure to treat such a promising young musician to his first symphony concert. Klinton seemed to soak up the experience through every pore.

If I had the power of Haydn's prince, I would have had the orchestra repeat Symphony No. 44 immediately. It was beautiful. And the Liszt piece with Mr. von Oeyen suited my turbulent mental state. Chris must have seen some tremendous hand work--if they weren't simply a blur. Klinton liked the Beethoven the best and I will agree that I enjoyed it very much. It's lightness brightened my mood and sent me home with a smile. Thank you, Mr. Brown, Mr. von Oeyen, and the musicians of the ASO!

Justin Brown's concert comments add tremendous value to my ASO experience. He is articulate and thought-provoking. He expressed concern that the drive for perfection and the ready ability to hear recordings of other performers has led to conformity and uniformity. It takes courage to interpret a piece differently from the standard and any who attempt something different may suffer with critics. I see that with my daughter, Molly. I worry that the endless push for perfection takes the joy out of the music for her.

I took his comments on conformity and uniformity personally. It does take courage to take a stand and the critics are harsh. The harshest critic is often oneself. Self-doubt is a familiar companion in my beloved wee hours. I will bet that true musicians, those with heart and character, will proceed with their unique approach, needing to express the truth they feel. In a sense, they are whistle blowers, calling our attention to the shallowness of perfection.

"Speak the truth in a million voices. It is silence that kills." -- Catherine of Sienna

Friday, September 28, 2007

Making Sense

From Margaret Wheatley's essay "From Hope to Hopelessness":

'...a quote from Rudolf Bahro that did help: "When the forms of an old culture are dying, the new culture is created by a few people who are not afraid to be insecure." Could insecurity, self-doubt, be a good trait?

Vaclev Havel helped me become further attracted to insecurity and not-knowing. "Hope," he states, "is a dimension of the soul. . . an orientation of the spirit, an orientation of the heart. It transcends the world that is immediately experienced and is anchored somewhere beyond its horizons. . . .It is not the conviction that something will turn out well, but the certainty that something makes sense regardless of how it turns out."

Thomas Merton was right: we are consoled and strengthened by being hopeless together. We don't need specific outcomes. We need each other. '

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Artistic Nature

My uncle, Bob Ramsay, sent me this. He says it's from "Birdbrain with a Migraine". I can't find that source anywhere.

What do I see when I am around an artist? They care and they don't care.

They care to value ideas. Ideas are not simply dismissed as a passing whim. Ideas are the first step in a new adventure. Ideas are a doorway to the mind and soul. Ideas think. Ideas emote. Ideas are the meaning of life. Ideas from others are welcome.

They care to record in some manner these vaporous ideas into concrete meaning. Sometimes ideas are lost like a cloud on a clear dry day. Sometimes the essence of the idea is maintained, but the details get warped. Recording is important because ideas fade as dreams fade.

Finding the correct medium to express ideas is very difficult. Music? Writing? Ceramics? Painting? Oils? Water? Glass? Steel? Stone? Carving? Appliqué? Fabric? Ideas and medium, how does this all fit in with one's ability? Art by programming is enticing and repulsive depending...They care greatly about the medium.

Work, work, work. Artists get so involved that work is not work. Time is not time. Sweat is not noticed. Blisters are not noticed. Burns are hardly noticed. Work is the path to achievement. Artist care about achievement.

Fruition. This is a terrible and depressing moment. Artists are their own worst critics. How does it look? Will it publish? Stop or rework and rework? Artists care about fruition.

Giving it up. Will it be acclaimed? Will it be panned? Will it be ignored? Your baby is now out in the cold cruel world. Artists care.

But then again, artists are not politicians, pandering and pandering, twisting ideas to fit others and more pandering. Politicians want something. Artists don't care to "take". Artists care to "give".

To artists, ideas are the most important thing. They will try and try again and again. They don't care to please others as a goal. Don't care as a badge of courage. And hopefully they can still eat. Artists are apart from others. Artisits are true, true to their ideas, true to their application of ideas.

Artists are always young. They think like children. They act like children. They are self-possessed like children. Children when they are young. Children to the day they die. Children because they care.

Artists care and they don't care. Artists are first, artists.

Some even die as artists. Principal comes before understanding. They care while they don't care. They care about principal and don't care about understanding. They are artists. They are true to their nature.

The Wiki is Public

I've made the MYO Project wiki public. You have to register to edit, though.

We're so proud of MYO in their debut. And MCYO is just so fun to listen to in rehearsal.
Next we'll see if we can get the chamber orchestra up and running. Strings, please consider participating. You will not regret it. I promise! I've been pretty good with promises, so far, haven't I?

Nick will be on a school trip October 1 through 5. I will be out of town October 2 through 10. I will be checking email.
And my cell is 999-1508. I plan to blog my solo drive to Colorado and back on my blog.

I need parents to help the refreshments at the rehearsals on the 7th and 8th. And I will likely need parents to sort and pass out the MYO t-shirts which are due next week. Let me know if you want to help.

We have been thinking and working hard on both the Viola Project and the community music school.
Check out the wiki and give us your input. Michelle Holland has given us a good lead on a facility, but someone else may know of something. Read through and add what's missing on our lists. It's a notebook of ideas.

Last night I lay awake for a long time trying to think my way past some of the obstacles. Those of you who get my 1 am emails know that's when I start babbling about nano UFOs and chatting plants. I really appreciate Michelle and Dominique joining in the research with enthusiasm. Makes the whole thing seem possible! Which is good, because I'm determined to do it anyway! I am afraid Nick is, too.

Be a lamp

Be a lamp, or a lifeboat, or a ladder. Help someone's soul heal. Walk out
of your house like a shepherd.
-Jalaluddin Rumi, poet and mystic (1207-1273)

Friday, September 21, 2007

Finally Choosing a Big Enough Name

Haven't had much time to post as we prepare for our debut concert this weekend. Many emotions churning through my heart! Thank you to all of you for getting us this far.

I enjoyed the 'Concertmaster and Friends' concert on Tuesday with Julie and Jessica Perkins, who are interviewed by Dominique van de Stadt on the MYO blog today. The performance by Mr. Szasz and Ms. Voicu was impressive. The girls liked the Paganini piece. My favorite was the Locatelli. They promised to have something similar worked up for us when we take MYO to Calcutta to visit them in a few years. (Just kidding, Julie and Jessica!)

We've started a wiki for the Viola Project and other things we are working on. For those who don't know, a wiki is a web page anyone can (easily) read, edit, add to, and comment on. We have lots of good ideas and good research coming in--and this is a way to make that available to everyone interested in helping us develop our program. For now, participation is by invitation. If you'd like to get involved, email me and I'll send you an invite. We know the results will be improved by every brain and pair of hands added.

I've just received Margaret Wheatley's book "Leadership and the New Science". Waiting for it to arrive, I've been reading the articles posted on her website. I particularly liked Eight Fearless Questions:
'...he said, "So many of us choose names that are too small for a whole life." So, we call ourselves, 'cancer survivors;' that seems to be a very bold name, but is it big enough to hold a life? Or, 'children of abuse.' Or, we call ourselves 'orphans,' or 'widows,' or 'martyrs'.... are these names big enough to hold your life?...'

...What if your work achieves nothing? Thomas Merton, a great writer and contemplative in the Catholic tradition, said, "Do not depend on the hope of results. You may have to face the fact that your work will be apparently worthless and even achieve no result at all, if not, perhaps, results opposite to what you expect.

"As you get used to this idea of your work achieving nothing, you start more and more to concentrate not on the results but on the value, the rightness, the truth of the work itself. And there, too, a great deal has to be gone through, as, gradually, you struggle less and less for an idea and more and more for specific people. The range tends to narrow down, but it gets much more real. In the end, it is the reality of personal relationships that saves everything..."'

Sunday, September 16, 2007

More Concert 'Newbies', Please!

I was delighted to have Chris, Matt, and Peter Leitten take MYO's offer to join me at the ASO concert last night. The company, like the performance, was excellent.

Justin Brown's comments during the Concert Notes about the ideal size of the orchestra for the hall were interesting. He said the Strauss piece beginning the concert required additional musicians to bring the ASO up to about 80--his stated ideal for that venue. The Mahler Symphony #1 increased that number to 100, with the promised increase in volume. So Nick and I are hoping for MYO to grow too big for the Alys Stephens Center. Hmm.

*Mr. Brown has corrected me on the numbers (Thank you!!):
The Strauss piece used about 70 players, which was what I said was my target size for the ASO. The Mahler added a few more brasses and percussion, bringing the figure up to about 80. 100 musicians is the (approximate) size of the Boston Symphony, NYPO, etc., a size that I don’t think is realistic or necessary for our orchestra (or for our hall).

The Leittens are eager for MYO to tackle the Mahler;), but we all agreed we need to concentrate on next week's concert first.

After the concert the couple beside us complemented me on the Leittens' behavior, causing a headache as I struggled not to roll my eyes. Please. The Leittens, like the rest of MYO, are professionals. The couple then made a few snarky comments about the poor behavior of the young people behind us.

I had chatted briefly with these almost-twenty-somethings when they asked me if the lights going up meant intermission. It was a large group of 8 or so, with more scattered throughout the hall. For most, it was their first symphony concert--and they weren't there as a requirement for a class. Yes, they were squirmy, a bit noisy, and occasionally clapped at the wrong time. (Oh, horrors!) But I was so delighted they were there to see that marvelous performance. I wish I had had my MYO business cards (currently pinned to Nick's bulletin board) to pass out. I would have offered to personally buy their next ticket to the symphony. This is how an orchestra grows its audience! Such an exciting concert is how young people discover a love for this music.

That's probably what MYO should try to do. When we all go to the concerts, we should bring along a person--young or old--who has never been to an ASO concert. Anyone out there who is in that category and would like to join us, drop me an email.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Think Pink

Students in Novia Scotia wore pink to stand up to bullies in their school:
"Two students at Central Kings Rural High School fought back against bullying recently, unleashing a sea of pink after a new student was harassed and threatened when he showed up wearing a pink shirt.

The Grade 9 student arrived for the first day of school last Wednesday and was set upon by a group of six to 10 older students who mocked him, called him a homosexual for wearing pink and threatened to beat him up...

...They used the Internet to encourage people to wear pink and bought 75 pink tank tops for male students to wear. They handed out the shirts in the lobby before class last Friday — even the bullied student had one...

..."The bullies got angry," said Travis. "One guy was throwing chairs (in the cafeteria). We’re glad we got the response we wanted."...

...The two friends said they didn’t take the action looking for publicity, but rather to show leadership in combating what they say is frequent bullying in schools."

Taking a stand with flair and creativity. Good job.

Friday, September 14, 2007

No Disassembly Required

Sequenza21 writes about a New York concert series, Wordless Music, which presents programs that must be fascinating--if just to study the audience:
"For a series only slightly over a year old, Wordless Music has made astonishing waves. Givony’s brainchild, which he only anticipated lasting two or three concerts, ends up in the black from ticket sales alone and has been featured in the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, and The New Yorker. His programs aim to be half-classical, half-rock, though he estimates about 90% of the audience comes for the latter. While such a programming style may not meet the curatorial standards of Lincoln Center, he tries to create sensible musical pairings. When he was able to secure Beirut for a concert on September 20th, for instance, he thought programming some Osvaldo Golijov would complement the band’s Balkan, Levantine sounds. Other times, however, Givony scrapes together a half-hour of classical music and sees whatever decent band he can get. So far, so good."

The philosophy stated on the Wordless Music website says the series is:
"...devoted to the idea that the sound worlds of classical and contemporary instrumental music--in genres such as indie rock, free jazz, and electronic music--share more in common than conventional thinking might suggest...It will also demonstrate that the various boundaries and genre distinctions segregating music today--"popular" and "classical"; "uptown" and "downtown"; "high" art and "low"--are an artificial construction in need of dismantling."

Listening to the conversations between the musicians associated with MYO, I'd say that music genres are more like books stored side-by-side on a shelf, separated only by their covers--or like tracks on a CD, separated by the tiniest of digital gaps. Very little dismantling required.

Here's Julian Lloyd Weber on the SBYO and El Sistema. And another interesting program in Tuscon:
"If this is what music can do, how can you know about this and not do anything about it?"

The Dallas Latin Youth Orchestra: What an interesting idea.

Photo by Michelle Holland

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Musicians are Good Sports

Andrew Taylor of the Artful Manager suggests a 'fantasy orchestra' league. In the comments for that post, Derek Kwan points to the Fantasy Music League.

According to the Houston Chronicle, the Houston Symphony has introduced musician trading cards.
"...the cards shine a spotlight on players who often seem hidden in a sea of black and white, said oboe player Colin Gatwood...

...They also might have the same kind of effect on a middle-school band player that baseball cards had on Johnson, he said. They were an inspiration.

"For any interested young musician, it's the same thing," he said. "They get a violinist card, a trumpet card, whatever, they won't forget it."

In Korea, classical music is an essential element of pop music:
"...classical music has become a major source of inspiration for the country's songwriters, through the means of sampling: the practice of capturing segments of existing recordings and including the captured "samples" in a new work. In fact, one of widespread beliefs among pop stars and album producers is that sampling well-known classical tunes is the surest guarantee of a song's commercial success."
Photo by Michelle Holland.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Life is a Remix Contest

Once again, Thom Singer of Some Assembly Required has said exactly what I needed to hear at this moment:
"...Too often we get caught up in doing everything the same way as our friends or the competition and working to not draw any attention to should realize that hiding in sameness will not produce your desired results.

I struggle with this, but I know first hand that when I try new things is when success follows. The efforts to stretch my own limits brings the attention (good and bad) which leads to opportunity. When I find myself staying with the pack, nothing ever happens...

...A conformist mentality is a comfortable place to reside. To be more creative we must look for opportunities to push ourselves toward new challenges..."

Friday, September 7, 2007

Strings in Space

Concerning the news about President Chavez of Venezuela committing millions to the youth orchestra system in that country, a parent commented in an email:
I saw the blog entry; unfortunately I cannot be thrilled about giving Hugo Chavez any positive press!
I don't intend to promote him, intending rather to spark our competitive spirit into a 60's-style space race--but with strings.

(I love getting a response! What's yours?)

Monday, September 3, 2007


Youth orchestras benefit their members and their communities in many ways. According to the Economist, the Venezuelan system provides the proof:
"A 1998 study by psychologists from the University of the Andes found that participants, who include formerly violent delinquents, tended to steer away from crime, drugs and other temptations. They also showed marked improvements in academic performance, self-esteem, leadership qualities and social integration."

In order for society to reap these benefits, all children must have access to music instruction. They cannot participate in youth orchestra without a certain level of proficiency on an instrument. But private lessons are prohibitively expensive for many. From Vanessa Thorpe in the Guardian:
"It's an age-old criticism - classical music is elitist, for white people only and does little to engage young people more at home on their PlayStation 3.

Well, now the fightback begins. The virtuoso cellist Julian Lloyd Webber has demanded an end to such 'tired' assumptions. Speaking after a youth concert at the Albert Hall last week that was hailed by several critics as a candidate for 'the best Prom of all time', he said: 'We need to give all young people access to this music and to orchestral instruments...

...Why should it be assumed that young people will not enjoy it? The problem is that they can't afford lessons'...

...He said that classical audiences are labelled elitist and dominated by white people, while the same thing is rarely said about the largely white and comfortably off crowds at rock concerts. It is a question of economics, not race, the musician argues."

One of our goals at MYO is to be able to offer private lessons on a sliding scale to everyone who is interested. And then welcome these students into youth orchestra for an experience we hope will be as much fun as playing with the Simon Bolivar Youth Orchestra at the Proms.