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Mark Likes Music

Music and Other Things I Care About

Updated: 2017-09-07T21:11:10.694-04:00


Taking a Break


I may return to posting, but, for now, I'll be packing it in. It's been harder than I thought to keep blogging up since moving to Los Angeles and taking on a new job at the Colburn School.

If you want to get in touch, or just want to keep up with me, follow me on Twitter @berrymark, or find me on Facebook.

Thanks for stopping by.

HEAR Initiative Makes the Philadelphia Orchestra Look Like a Do-Gooding Think Tank, and That's Awesome


More and more, orchestras in the United States are investing in non-traditional, community-based programs that are not only helping to re-establish themselves as part of the civic fabric but are also broadening the notion of what constitutes an orchestra musician.

Earlier this month, the Philadelphia Orchestra became the latest and most prominent American orchestra to take this step when it announced its HEAR initiative. It's cutesy acronym that stands for Health, Education, Access, Research, but is looks like the work behind it is anything but frivolous.

An example of a HEAR project is the orchestra's partnership with the Temple University Arts and Quality of Life Research Center and the Broad Street Ministry. After receiving music therapy training, orchestra musicians perform together with ministry guests, who include victims of homelessness and abuse. Temple University researchers then observe these performances to determine, as the ministry website puts it, "the impact that this creative process will have on the well-being of our guests over time." (Musicians participated in one of these sessions in early March.)

The Philadelphia Inquirer reports that, in addition to strengthening its mentoring relationship with the All City Orchestra, the orchestra will partner with Martin Ihrig of the University of Pennsylvania's Graduate School of Education to map the music education ecosystem in an attempt to provide data to policy makers and administrators as they attempt to make the most of their budgets and programs.

The Philadelphia Orchestra--not that long ago bankrupt--and its CEO, Allison Vulgamore, could be taking a big risk in embracing such programs. Will new donors support these activities? Will big donors who like fancy concerts in big halls be turned off? Will the musicians lose patience with programs that are outside their traditional role? These are surely questions, Vulgamore, staff, board and musicians are all pondering.

But the reward here could be great: aside from doing good, the orchestra can position itself as a valuable, thought leading institution in Philadelphia that drives cultural policy decisions. It can also create the model for what other top-tier orchestras in big cities (or not-top-tier orchestras in not-so-big cities) can do to make themselves relevant.

Hartford Symphony Has Its Own Executive Director Now


Things have been rough at the Hartford Symphony for a while, and yesterday it took a step toward righting itself by promoting its artistic programming director, Stephen Collins, to CEO.

Until yesterday, the Hartford Symphony was overseen by David Fay, the CEO of Bushnell Performing Arts Center, where the orchestra performed. This dual role left Fay open to accusations of conflict of interest, and he also split administrative staff between the two non-profit organizations.

Here's a Reason to Hate the Met


Much more disgraceful than The Met's new logo is that the museum lies to the public. If you've ever gone, you'll know that The Met goes to every length to not only obscure that it's free to visit, but actively tries to get you to pay a "recommended" admission fee.

In a passive-aggressive move designed only to end a lawsuit for its fraudulence, The Met will now call it a "suggested" fee to enter on its signage. Whether its employees will be more forthcoming with the attendance policy is yet to be seen.

This kind of dishonesty is much more hurtful to your brand than any logo-design misfire.

Everyone Hates The Met's New Logo, But They'll Still Go, Right?


It started with Justin Davidson's Vulture review of The Metropolitan Museum's new logo, who called The Met's new logo a "graphic misfire" that looks "like a red double-decker bus that has stopped short, shoving the passengers into each other’s backs."

Adweek panned it as a "letter-killing, article-elevating, butt-filled logo" and responded with one word upon viewing Wolff Olins's concept samples. Brand New has weighed in, as has Art Net News.

Everyone loves to hate logos, which makes sense. I hate logos too: we spend way too much time arguing over marks, defending them, decoding their meaning. I'd rather talk about how an organization treats us, what it says to us, how it make our lives better. 

Do Knowledge Workers Settle in Cities for the Arts, or Is It a Coincidence?


On Christmas Eve, Richard Florida posted an article on CityLab that draws on an article in the Economic Development Quarterly by Arthur Nelson and others to argue for the importance of the performing arts in drawing so-called knowledge workers to cities:
The study finds substantial evidence that performing arts organizations add to both the growth of the knowledge class and to urban economies broadly. Those with just one type of performing arts center saw a 1.1 percent increase in knowledge-class employment between 2000 and 2010; those with two types of performing arts centers saw a 1.5 percent increase; and those with all three types saw a 2.2 percent increase. 
The result of this influx of new-economy careerists is a whole bunch of money made:
Over this ten-year period, the 118 metros with at lease one performing arts organization generated a whopping $60 billion in annual income and more than half a million additional knowledge-class jobs, or over 12 percent of all knowledge-class jobs created over that time frame.  
I'm looking forward to finding the article (which you can buy for $32 if you want) and taking a look, because on the basis of what Florida tells us, I don't see a very convincing argument here. People come to cities and set up shop for a lot of reasons, and a lot of cities in the US have at least one performing arts center and group. I'd be much more convinced with some surveying of actual knowledge workers, asking them why they moved to their cities.

People with good intentions are always trying to find reasons why the arts matter--they make our children wiser, make us richer and more successful in life and work--but the arguments always sound shrill because the conclusions are overblown relative to the evidence. It seems to be the case here.

What Are the New Models of Professional Musicianship?


On his own blog, my colleague Nate Zeisler describes two models for musical careers. In the first model, musicians are mechanics, creating within "a very narrow, accepted window of performance practice which has been dictated by your teacher, conductor and the music written on a page." In the second model, musicians act more like designers, and come up with "new ways of thinking about the art form" by drawing on new genres of music and artistic disciplines. For Nate, the path toward a successful career is to fuse the two:
In the field of classical music, there is very little room for people who can’t infuse qualities from both sides of the aisle into their career. Great designers in music will have little to say and won’t have credibility in the field if they aren’t great mechanics. Great mechanics, for the most part, won’t have a sustainable career if they’re not thinking as designers.
I agree that the most successful musicians will be able to be both mechanics and designers, as he says, but I'd also like to add another archetype to the mix, that of the communicator. 

Communicators are those musicians that can find new ways to engage potential audiences and get them to understand the value of making music a art of their lives. Communicators might be naturals at social media, or they might just like talking about what they do. They share a lot with designers, but they have that extra ability to advocate, to espouse, to persuade. 

Houston Symphony Hires New Musicians for Concerts and Community


Last week, the Houston Symphony announced that it has hired four new string players as it first group of "community embedded musicians" who will perform, teach, and otherwise use their talents throughout the city.

Violinist Jenna Barghouti, bassist David D. Connor, violist Anthony Parce, and cellist and Hellen Weberpal will perform 25 concerts a year with the orchestra, but will spend most of their time outside the concert hall. The orchestra has a plan, for example, to create a music therapy program for these musicians (a "music and wellness program aimed at increasing the quality of health care through music," as the press release says).

The Community Embedded Musician program starts this season, and only time will tell how far it will go beyond the traditional outreach model, but making a real investment in talented musicians who can apply their talents in new ways shows that the Houston Symphony gets it. They get that orchestras they have to go out and prove their value in new ways, not just to attract new audiences and donors, but to keep the ones they have. 

The Houston Symphony joins the Detroit Symphony in sending a clear message to musicians--and those that teach them--that getting paid means being engaged. The Houston jobs are the first new positions that the orchestra has added in 10 years, at a time when orchestras are getting smaller, hiring fewer full timers or just doing without new musicians. Back in 2013, the Detroit Symphony board and musicians agreed on a contract, while cutting base pay by 23%, would offer musicians an extra $7,000 a year to participate in community programs. Last year, that orchestra also received a significant gift from Clyde and Helen Wu to help bolster its youth ensembles

Broadening the Concert-Music Repertoire: Good for Audiences, Good for America


As a guest blogger on the Cross-Eyed Pianist, Simon Brackenborough argues that programming composers like Arnold Bax, half-lost to history but still with passionate advocates, will invigorate concert music and attract new audiences:
It’s not about whether enough people will like Bax. But by confidently confronting the question of why he produces both obsessive fans and sniffy detractors, you have exactly the opportunity to engage people that the Proms should have seized with both hands. Disagreement, after all, is a sign that an art form matters: a repertoire of limited risk is a repertoire of limited relevance. The industry will be in a healthier place when concert-goers are less sure that they will enjoy the experience, but are willing to pay to find out.
I'm not sure we should promote concerts with the slogan, You May Not Enjoy This: Pay to Find Out, but I do agree that there is great value in putting "masterworks"--pieces we hear all the time, season in and season out--next to their historical contemporaries so that we can find new enjoyment in debating the canon: how and why certain music makes it into our virtual musical museum, and whether we should be changing things up in there.

Within the field of American music, digging through the vaults is particularly important and exciting, as we have such a nascent concert-music canon. We have a chance to form a real, living history in the concert hall, to have a say in what we want to hear, and what we want to remember. 

We also have the chance to do some pro-sports-level shit-talking, a good ol' American tradition in its own right. Did Ives really write the only two Great American Symphonies, and did George Templeton Strong really write the most beautiful slow movement in American history, as Joseph Horowitz says? Do you think he's completely off base, or did he steal your thunder by bringing it up before you? I think George Rochberg's Symphony No. 2 is the most important 12-tone piece ever written and performed in the United States; who'll care enough to prove me wrong? And how does Amy Beach's "Gaelic" Symphony stack up?  

In his post, Brackenborough (who also runs the blog Corymbus) compares classical music with being stuck in dead-end job, "comfortable routine that just about pays the bills, but whose narrow scope and dull repetition prevents any hope of reaching something greater." I don't know if we'll get something greater by getting more music out there, but it could certainly end up making things more fun.

Hartford Symphony in Trouble, but How to Get Out of It?


In June, the board of the Hartford Symphony approved cutting the orchestra's budget by 20%, from $2.5 million to $2 million, as the administration begins negotiating a new contract with the musicians, talks that promise to be contentious.

Writing on the WNPR website, Steve Metcalf argues that saving Hartford's orchestra does not mean resorting to performing more pops concerts, as he claims is the direction proposed by CEO David Fay, but by remembering that the primary purpose of the orchestra is to perpetuate the canon:
The pesky underlying issue here is that a great professional orchestra exists to play the great orchestral repertoire – both modern and vintage – at the highest possible artistic level. Yes, of course, pops concerts can be fun, and can furnish a nice little ancillary zone of activity and outreach. And sure, maybe there is an additional stream of revenue to be had from backing up, you know, aging rock groups or video-game soundtrack nights or occasionally accompanying faux-classical figures like a Josh Groban or an Andrea Bocelli.
Fair enough--who likes pops concerts, really--but while Metcalf's statement of purpose may have guilted people in the past to attend a concert or give money to keep afloat in the past, it simply won't fly in most cities today. Without giving up its artistic integrity, an orchestra needs to start being an educational resource as much as a performing group. And this broader thinking needs to be embraced by the musicians, not simply artificially imposed by an administration or board.

Trevor O'Donnell also addresses the Hartford Symphony's problems, taking aim at the stale language of its marketing.

She Plays Piano, Too


From Mark Swed's review of Yuja Wang's performance at the Hollywood Bowl last Tuesday: 
Dressed in a strapless, snug, sparkling gown with a black zipper down her back Tuesday night, Yuja Wang has clearly become the belle of the Bowl. Ever since her Hollywood Bowl debut four years ago wearing a short skirt that became a fashion statement, in classical music circles at any rate, audiences expect that the 28-year-old Chinese pianist will be a dazzling presence the moment she walks on stage. Hi-def Bowl monitors help.
From his 2011 review of Yuja Wang with the Los Angeles Philharmonic:
Her dress Tuesday was so short and tight that had there been any less of it, the Bowl might have been forced to restrict admission to any music lover under 18 not accompanied by an adult. Had her heels been any higher, walking, to say nothing of her sensitive pedaling, would have been unfeasible. The infernal helicopters that brazenly buzz the Bowl seemed, on this night, like long-necked paparazzi wanting a good look.
That review was part of a spate of comments, by men mostly, on Wang's choice of concert attire. I thought enough had been said; I guess not.

Orchestras Need to Share Their Story, but It Better Be What We Want to Hear


On the Neoclassical blog, Chattanooga Symphony Orchestra concertmaster Holly Mulcahy gives us her two cents on why orchestras can't seem to get their communities excited about what they do:
Having a logo and concise website is a good start, but ultimately it’s a narrative, a story, that has the most power to capture attention and hearts. ... As orchestras try to share what they can about education, entertainment, and culture, the huge thing lacking is a story arc and tension to draw people in. 
For Mulcahy, it's all about finding a more compelling way to tell the story, which is true, but orchestras also have to remember that they're writing non-fiction. How many orchestras have adapted their mission and strategies in a way that will help make the yarn they spin compelling?

Orchestras still program music, pick their soloists and music directors, and cultivate donors under the tired, threadbare, unsubstantiated assumption that their music has some inherent high-culture value (which Drew McManus feels is a defensive pose, a "failure to communicate."). They better make sure they can show that they're engaging communities in meaningful ways. Otherwise, it'll be the same old story.

Dorky Songs? I've Got One.

2014-08-24T12:09:05.675-04:00 listed their 50 dorkiest songs (that we secretly love) earlier this week; it's a great list, but I think they missed a few.

How about this, for one: allowfullscreen="" frameborder="0" height="315" src="//" width="420">

Judson Spence's album was cringeworthy, but for the Hammond B-3 alone, his only hit was worth listening to when it came out in 1988.

E-Mail Would Be a Lot Better If We Gave Up Our Old Fashioned Ways and Got into New, Better Habits


E-mail, man. It's the worst.

Back in the old days, I used to love making that walk down to the computer lab to see if any one of the handful of people who had my email address had fired an electronic missive my way. Staring at that two-tone, black-and-yellow screen, filled with anticipation, feeling that burst of joy at the sight of a line in the inbox: it was the highlight of my day.

I still enjoy checking into my trusty Google account, but at work, I avoid my inbox at all costs. It's where my productivity goes to die, and it's not necessarily because of e-mail itself, but how and when people decide to send it to me.

I wish more people would follow the advice of Harvey Schachter in the Globe and Mail, who also takes the time to realign our ethics of e-mail. For one, he dispells the assumption that short e-mails are rude, and asks us to "consider that lengthy emails are disrespectful of others' time." To that end, he recommends we follow a five-sentence rule for e-mails to make sure we're only conveying the most essential information to our readers. Another habit to get into is to look at an e-mail once and respond immediately (which is harder than it sounds).

There's more in Schachter's article to consider. Share it with your friends, but try to avoid e-mailing the link.

Fat Shaming: It's Not Just for Dancers


Anastasia Tsioulcas gives us a round-up of British critics' comments on Tara Erraught's weight in their reviews of her performance in Der Rosenkavalier at the Glyndebourne Festival. They remind me of Alaistair Macaulay's review of the New York City Ballet's 2010 Nutcracker, in which he displayed similar pettiness regarding Jenifer Ringer's appearance. Macaulay couldn't get beyond his own bitterness to lead a discussion of how body appearance might effect how receive and interpret ballet; these music writers seem to be more interested in cultivating an air of catty cool to really do their jobs and engage in a critique of how body types effect an opera.

On Slamming the Media for Only Covering the Bad News about Orchestras


Last week on, Robert Levine criticized the "news business" for not reporting, as reported in the Journal Sentinel, that the Milwaukee Symphony had raised $5 million in emergency funds to pay off debt and balance its budget. Levine also has a piece of advice:
(M)ost of what you read about orchestras is crap. At the very best, it’s one-sided – bad news is sexier than good news, and weird news is more interesting than important news.
 A few thoughts here:

1) I don't know where Levine gets his reportage, but when there is good news, people write about it. I've read interesting and heartening stories in the last few months about the Kansas City Symphony, the Baltimore Symphony, the Cleveland Orchestra (also here), and the Detroit Symphony.

2) Journalists' jobs aren't to be cheerleaders for their hometown orchestras, and they can provide a great service by critically examining the goings on of what are, after all, local civic organizations. The Detroit Symphony and Minnesota Orchestra labor conflicts were hard to read about, but they do provide valuable case studies in orchestra management that we can learn from going forward. Sometimes we need to hear bad news.

3) If we get the occasional "classical music is dead" article, that's the price we pay for engaging in a cultural practice that celebrates music written deep in the past. I'm not saying that's a bad thing, but don't expect people to ignore it. 

A Community of Musicians Needs to Include More than Performers and Composers


On New Music Box, Armondo Bayolo exhorts musicians to think big:
We must see ourselves as collaborators within a much wider network of musicians and citizens, helping each other as best we can—be it through something as complex as presenting performances or something as simple as sharing each other’s work on social media—regardless of personal payoff.  The benefits will ultimately manifest themselves and reach far beyond the immediate gratification of a paycheck (although let’s not forget the importance of that paycheck, lest we get too idealistic and starve ourselves in the process) and into the realm of real, tangible cultural change.
It's dispiriting that some musicians need to be reminded that advocacy needs to be part of what they do, that it's not enough to play the gig, get paid, and go home. On the other hand, it's an encouraging sign that there are groups out there who are either engaging in new ways with other musicians--Bayolo cites the relationship between So Percussion and David Lang.

Bayolo also discusses how he used his curating of a concert series as an opportunity to strengthen the musical community through his programming decisions. I was glad to see a composer acknowledge, albeit indirectly, the role that people off the stage play as artistic administrators, or even (shudder) "marketers." Very few of us who put our energies toward promoting music do so out of a craven desire to make money; most of us have a sincere desire to convince people that music is worth paying attention to.

Ultimately, however, there needs to be a direct and substantive engagement with the public (this doesn't happen enough). That's a sure way to make real, tangible cultural change.

Multitasking's the Worst, and So Is E-Mail


It's easy enough to walk into any workplace and hear people bragging about all the multitasking they do, but, as pointed out by Matthew Fritz, what gets undervalued today is the ability to focus and prioritize. Multitasking can be downright harmful: Rahul Mayak on Twitter cited a Time/Inc. article by Issie Lapowsky that discusses recent research on the negative effects of multitasking.

One big culprit? E-mail. As Lapowsky points out, almost a quarter of our work time is spent on e-mail, and almost all of it increases multitasking--and tension. According to a study out of University of California, Irvine, when employees were cut off from e-mail for five days, their levels of stress and focus increased. That's not to say that e-mail is inherently bad, but it does show how people use it to pay forward the chaos and instability their own multitasking creates.

From Industry to Engagement: Sometimes Classical Music is So Far Behind, It's Ahead


I came across a couple of blog posts about music that talk about the shift from an industry model ("we make CDs") to a service model based on ongoing personal engagement.

Classical musicians have been living this new model for years. Most of them not only perform, but they also teach, and it's common practice to engage in pre- or post-concert meet-and-greets after concerts. Even orchestras, the classical-music institution most closely tied to the industrial model, have embraced educational programs and events aimed at improving face-to-face contact with the audience.

To some extent, all musicians have had to piece together a career, using all their entrepreneurial tools to sell various services. But classical music benefits having in place not only a long-standing tradition of engagement in place but also the institutions it needs to carry that out on a large scale. 

You Need a Style Guide


I'm really excited about this, because I just embraced the smiley-face emoticon.

BuzzFeed now has its own style guideas noted by Megan Garber of The Atlantic with notable condescension. To be fair, though, it is pretty slipshod work if you put together a guide that lets writers overrule you if anything "looks weird" to them.

The point is that if BuzzFeed can have a style guide, so can you. No matter how small your organization, you'll have a lot of writing to do. Figure out whether you use Ph.D. or PhD, use serial commas, and accept smiley-face emoticons in e-mails (and, for that matter, whether you write it e-mail or email). It'll save you a lot of time and embarrassment.

Kansas City Symphony's Google Glass Moment


On Friday, four members of the Kansas City Symphony, including music director Michael Stern, wore Google Glass and recorded their rehearsal. A local company will edit the videos together, and we should see a final version this week.

Orchestras seem to want to bring people closer and closer to them; it would be good if they return the favor more often.

Songs About Football, We Got 'Em


We've got songs about baseball and songs about hockey, and now we have songs about football on this blog, courtesy of Thomas Meglioranza, who suggested Cole Porter's "Bulldog," from Night and Day ...
allowfullscreen="" frameborder="0" height="315" src="//" width="420">
and Leonard Bernstein's "Pass the Football" from Wonderful Town.

Pinterest Is For Everyone


On news that Pinterest's growth has been driven by women, we have this from Steve Roggenbuck:

Promoting an Orchestra and the Importance of Personal Contact


(image) Back in December, Tim Smith wrote enthusiastically about how the Baltimore Symphony was using a series of ads--last week, they won an award from the American Marketing Association of Baltimore--to acquaint the city with its players.
The images, done by videographer/producer James Bartolomeo of Protagonist Films, may not lead to a surge of ticket sales or mobs of new fans huddled outside the stage door. But it's always worth reminding the public that real live people are up onstage playing all that Beethoven, Mahler and Bernstein, people with individual personalities and tastes, people worth getting to know.
The best thing orchestras can do to raise their profiles within their own communities is to put the focus back on its musicians, and the Baltimore Symphony's campaign provides an effective model of how to use paid advertising to achieve this. But ads alone won't build loyalty: it takes personal appearances where people can meet the musicians face to face, learn about what they do, and hear from the musicians themselves about why the music matters.

Professional sports teams do this kind of outreach very well. A friend of mine--no sports aficionado--here in Rochester recounted a story just last night of how his winning a pizza party with players from the local Americans minor-league team turned him into a hockey fan. He told me about a conversation he had with one particular player that humanized the game for him, making it more relatable.

Unfortunately, too many orchestra players still believe that their responsibility to the city they play in--and whose citizens pay their salary--begins at the first downbeat, and ends the minute the conductor leaves stage. A real commitment to engagement is required to build on the kind of momentum that the Baltimore Symphony has created.

Ivy Lee and What Makes Public Relations So Stressful


On Flack Me, Jeannine Wheeler profiles the man who started it all for PR people, Ivy Lee:
"Tell the truth," he said, "because sooner or later the public will find out anyway. And if the public doesn’t like what you are doing, change your policies and bring them into line with what people want.”
Apparently, this was groundbreaking advice back in the early decades of the 20th century, and Lee became very wealthy counseling some of the most famous industrialists of the time. Famously, he came under fire from Upton Sinclair while representing the Rockefellers during the Ludlow Massacre of 1914-15 in Colorado.

It's this contradiction--using the values your mother taught you to help people involved in dubious activities (to put it charitably) come away looking good to their constituents and the public--that makes public relations among the most stressful jobs around.