Thursday, October 30, 2008


Here's something unusual. I won't spill too many words over it right now, but it's basically another example of found music. I'd found an unmarked mp3 of Schumann's Mondnacht on my hard drive, and I wanted to confirm that it was the same recording as a marked version in my iTunes. (They did turn out to be the same, the mp3 being something I'd created from the protected iTunes files for class purposes once upon a time.) So, I set the two playing at the same time, except they didn't quite synch up - yet there was something instantly appealing about the way the repeated notes of the accompaniment seemed to be doublestruck. Then, a bit more mischievously, I tossed a third version into the mix, running a phrase behind more or less like a canon. The result is - well, it is what it is. I wish I had time to write more about it, but at least this gives me something to follow up on in a future blog post. For now, the point is that, though I don't claim to have composed anything, I find this mashup very satisfying, in a hallucinatory way. I'm not saying it's an improvement on the unimprovably perfect Schumann, but it is dreamy.

P.S. The performers are René Köhler, tenor and Joyce Hatto, piano.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Weekend(s) Update(d)

Some quick updates as we await tonight's monumental Game 7 . . .

As promised last post, I did attend Simone Dinnerstein's recital last night, even though I couldn't get my borrowed iPhone (which is not set up as a phone) to tap into the school's wireless network - no in-recital Game 6 updates for me. No matter - the recital finished in a tidy 1:44, while the baseball game had a fortuitous 15-minute delay for an umpire injury(!). Dinnerstein was remarkably efficient in her recital pacing (like a well-pitched Tim Wakefield game), starting right on time, never leaving the stage during the first half, taking a brief intermission, and avoiding many an optional repeat. She did grace us with an encore, but it was as short as could be: the opening piece of Schumann's Scenes from Childhood. (I had the slightest fear that we might get all the scenes, but no worries.) So, at 9:45 I found myself sprinting to my car and was soon listening in on the 4th inning of what turned out to be a satisfying victory, most of which I got to see on TV.

Dinnerstein's recital was excellent, by the way, whatever impression the uncivilized paragraph above may have left. If I didn't find myself consistently engaged, I certainly wouldn't blame her playing, which was as imaginative and colorful as advertised. I was, regrettably, distracted. I might complain about the programming, specifically the decision to open with the Copland and Webern variations back-to-back. It was a small and somewhat sleepy crowd anyway, but I don't think it helped to begin with two such forbidding works, however beautifully they might be constructed. I'm all for not being tethered to chronology, but I also didn't see/hear how these two works led to the Bach French Suite that followed.

Anyway, the second half was the highlight. I really enjoyed Philip Lasser's variations on a Bach chorale - as weighty and creatively varied as a good set of Brahms variations, and that's saying a lot. And what a beautiful chorale Lasser chose. What I enjoyed most about the Lasser is how gorgeously and idiomatically he writes for the piano (helped along by Dinnerstein's playing, of course). Every note sounded like it was conceived with the piano in mind, unlike so many modern piano works that seem to treat the keyboard as a monochromatic percussion instrument. Dinnerstein's closing performance of Beethoven's final sonata was mesmerizing at times. Honestly, although Op.111 is legendary for being such an interpretive challenge, I think it's written so beautifully that it's pretty foolproof, assuming the pianist can handle the notes and has a soul - which most pianists do! I'd like to return in some future post to this issue of indestructibility (because I know many will disagree), but, for now, let's move forwards by going back to last weekend.

Way back on Monday (almost a week ago), I promised to get around to blogging about a second delightful musical experience from that weekend. I've already written quite a bit about the BSO's Saturday night Mahler 6, but Sunday afternoon I had the pleasure of attending a wonderful wedding of two young musicians. To say music played a big role in the ceremony would be quite an understatement as there was a pretty sizable orchestra on hand of 25-30, as well as a chorus and multiple soloists. And yet, this was not some big-budget, trust-fund extravaganza. I believe that most of the musicians were volunteering their efforts as friends of the couple. (Remember, these were musicians putting on the wedding.)

My favorite sequence was the processional, which was listed in the program as the slow movement of Bach's Double Concerto (a perfect choice which, it so happens, has been performed at all five of my family weddings) and the famous Nimrod movement of Elgar's Enigma Variations. Both were immensely satisfying and emotionally moving, but one noted that the bride had not yet arrived as the Elgar settled down from its gorgeous climax. There followed a slightly mysterious intro, with sweeping harp arpeggios and the like, and all of a sudden a violin was heard playing Somewhere Over the Rainbow. It took me a few seconds to realize that the violinist was the bride herself, who'd created this sumptuous arrangement as a surprise for her groom - hearing the violin soaring up above, it sounded like some ultra-Romantic violin concerto (Korngold-eqsue?). She eventually put her instrument down and let the orchestra sweep her up to the altar.

Yes, it was sappy, but amazingly, the Bach-Elgar-Arlen procession progression worked, showing that the Great American Songbook deserves a place in the canon. But all that aside, the entire service was evidence of how powerfully music can communicate, whether establishing a reverent solemnity (Bach), creating overwhelming emotion (Elgar), or describing unembarrassed romantic joy (Rainbow). By the way, I think the Bach can do all of that on its own, but the rainbow was such an unforgettable surprise. And having all the performers giving so generously of their gifts lent something special to the afternoon as well.

But that's enough superlatives about the past. Time to get ready for the emotional rollercoaster that is any Game 7 of a playoff series. Here's hoping I don't need Nimrod to get me through the night.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Sox vs. Symphony

Two weekends ago, I attended a playoff game at Fenway Park; last weekend, as already mentioned, I attended a performance of Mahler 6 at Symphony Hall. I know it's not really fair to compare the experience of an orchestra concert with a sporting event, but my mind keeps drifting back to this imaginary matchup, probably because I've been evaluating my experience as a new BSO subscriber at the same time the Red Sox are in the midst of yet another exciting playoff run. It's relevant in the whole "what will happen to classical music" discussion, because sports are such a major audience draw. Elitists will often sneer at society's fixation on silly sporting events, which sneering is probably fair, but surely there's something to be learned from something which attracts such loyal devotion from its audiences.

One comparison I keep thinking about is the question of length. The baseball game was a grueling, 12-inning nailbiter that the visiting Angels ended up winning just before 1AM (the game had started at 7:30). When factoring in the time it took to fetch the car (parked, I might proudly add, in a free spot only 15 minutes away from Fenway), and then adding in the time to get the very generous babysitter home, I ended up going to bed at 2AM that night, all in the interest of seeing my team lose in dispiriting fashion. And yet I'm glad I went. It's funny, in that context, to think that the Mahler is considered a long piece; it's so long by symphonic standards that there was nothing else on the program, there was no intermission, and thus, the evening was quite short, well less than 2 hours. In fact, we left Symphony Hall that night and headed straight to a restaurant to catch up on what the Sox were doing that night. Fortunately, we didn't stay until the end, because that game went 11 innings, and we lost it as well.

Of course, one experiences these lengths quite differently, since the Mahler requires sitting quietly for about an hour and a half. The baseball game, especially a high-stakes playoff game, involves lots of standing, and yelling, and even singing ("Sweet Caroline, Oh! Oh! Oh!...") - odd that the baseball game would be the one to invite the audience to make music - not to mention eating, drinking, talking... It's obviously a more naturally social occasion, so time passes more quickly. (Maybe symphony audiences trend older because the patrons want to feel time move slowly. (HINT: For those who really want to delay the inevitable, I recommend Haydn's Creation - "Spend eternity back where it all started!" - but I'm getting off point.))

Anyway, it's not my point here to argue the relative merits of suffering along with Gustav vs. suffering along with Gus from the North End, except maybe to note that it's hard for the concert to match the "event" status of a playoff game, even when Mahler's on the bill. More than anything, this has to do with the fact that no one knows how the game will end (whereas I complained in my last post that I didn't come in knowing enough about how the Mahler would go), but it also has to do with the enormous media coverage that saturates the experience of taking in a big game. As I mentioned last post, even with the BSO making a big deal out of trying out two different orderings of movements on Friday/Saturday, with the idea of selecting the more satisfactory for Tuesday, there was zero media interest (even from the BSO's own website) in following how this played out. Believe me, if tonight's game doesn't go well, every decision Sox manager Terry Francona makes about his ordering of relief pitchers will be endlessly dissected.

Still, although a sporting event has spontaneity on its side, it also draws strength from history and tradition in a way that is true for classical music as well. You need to have endured a LOT of disappointing games (as I most certainly have) to appreciate fully how remarkable Thursday night's Red Sox comeback was. The fact that I have sat, with a sort of anything's-possible attitude, through countless hopeless situations made it all the more unbelievable when Boston overcame the 7th innning 7-0 deficit. The fact that this was the biggest playoff comeback since 1929?!? That's history! Unbelievably compelling history. In fact, no team had ever survived such a deficit when facing elimation. OK, in the grand scheme of things, it's not so important, but then neither is Mahler, really. But to witness (well, we don't have cable, so I only heard via radio) such an unlikely and uplifting thing happen? It would be hard for a concert to compete.

This all reminds me of a night back in Spring of 1992. I had chosen to attend a high-level, professional piano recital being hosted by my university, even though there was a big college basketball game I really wanted to see. I can still picture myself sitting in my car at the recital's intermission, listening to a game that was going down to the wire. I was torn, but ultimately decided to go hear more piano: Liszt's Venezia e Napoli and I-have-no-idea what else. The only lasting impression that recital has made on me is that I ended up missing what is often considered the greatest NCAA tournament game of all time, when Christian Laettner's last-minute catch-and-shoot beat Kentucky. I'm not even going to mention the name of the piano recitalist, because I've always held an unfair grudge against her. I did get a small bit of revenge on music in general. A few years back, having recently acquired my first video iPod, I had, as an iTunes impulse buy, downloaded a condensed version of the Duke-Kentucky game. While sitting through an excruciatingly boring performance of Haydn's Creation, I absent-mindedly flipped out the iPod and starting watching some hoops.

Which brings us, oddly, to tonight when I face the Sophie's Choice of either going to a piano recital by star-of-the-moment Simone Dinnerstein or staying home to watch Game 6 of Sox-Rays. (In this case, staying at the in-laws' means that cable TV is available.) Actually, in spite of the story just told, I've already decided on the piano recital, but I have two things in my favor. First, the game should still be going on for an hour or more after the recital is done. Second, I now have my hands on an iPhone (handed down to me by my sister who's already got the newer model) which, though not hooked up as a phone, will be able to access my school's Wi-Fi during the recital. No, I don't intend to follow pitch by pitch, but it will be nice to know where things stand down in Florida, even as the otherworldly strains of Beethoven's Op.111 (temporary eternity of the best kind) round out the recital. By the way, I love encores, as a rule, but I think it's safe to say I'll be fine without one tonight - unless the Sox are already down by an insurmountable seven runs.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Music That Makes Me Happy (Part 2 of Part 2)

So, as I mentioned last post, hearing Mahler 6 at the BSO was the first highlight of a wonderful musical weekend. I spent the rest of that post suggesting that the atmosphere little resembled the dire descriptions of decaying patrons and disinterested performers that we keep hearing about from the doomsaying prophets. But what made it so satisfying?

First of all, let me back up to say that I think all music reviews are personal (though many reviewers like to pretend otherwise), so I'm intentionally focusing on my own response more than trying to make some objective evaluation of Mahler, the BSO, James Levine, etc. Thus, I have to begin by saying how great it was just to be out at such an event. As I've confessed here before, over the last 20 years of being a busy student, performer, teacher, husband, and father, I haven't made enough effort to get out to live concerts. When commenting on the contemporary musical scene, I often feel like Tom Townsend in this priceless exchange from Metropolitan.

Audrey: What Jane Austen novels have you read?
Tom: None. I don't read novels. I prefer good literary criticism. That way you get both the novelists' ideas as well as the critics' thinking. With fiction I can never forget that none of it really happened, that it's all just made up by the author.

I don't have the same clever rationale as Tom, but I know I haven't really kept myself in the game enough to be an educated observer - or, more importantly, to enjoy what I love about music! So, just being at the BSO was reward in itself.

Now as to the music, I made an unusual decision that I slightly regret. It happens that I don't know Mahler #6 well at all. I've played #1 and #7 from the cello section and I've been choir rehearsal pianist for #8 - I also know my way around #4 and #5 more or less, but I haven't really crossed paths with #6. My first instinct was to devote the weeks before the concert to getting to know it by the standard methods of listening, reading, etc. Stephen Ledbetter's program notes make the excellent point that "no composer has benefited so much from the development of the recording as Mahler, simply because listeners were then able to live with his demanding works until their secrets could be revealed." And, as I've mentioned before, growing up in south Arkansas meant that I grew up on recordings much more than on live performances. It's my natural way into the world of a new piece.

However, several years of teaching about music to non-music majors have exposed me to the phenomenon of listeners who say they'd rather not be prepared for what to listen for or told what to expect. No, I don't just mean those who make excuses for not studying. I've realized for a long time that one thing I love about listening to music I love is that I know what's coming; listening within that sort of anticipatory framework is part of the joy. This is one reason the "classical music world" tends to get stuck in the past. We tend to be populated by listeners who like rehearing the familiar. I think I'll always be that kind of listener, but there are clearly those who don't want to know what's coming - who want a more literally spontaneous experience. (An interesting little side note: I've always felt that program notes should list approximate timings for the works on a program [maybe because I grew up listening to recordings that always list timings], but when I suggested this possibility to one of my classes, many students said they'd find that distracting. They like to be kept guessing about where the music is going. My biggest concern is for an audience hearing, say, the Brahms Violin Concerto for the first time, and having absolutely no idea that the first movement alone will go on for almost twenty minutes, but maybe I should save this topic for another day.)

At any rate, Mahler surely couldn't have expected his audiences (especially for the premieres!) to know his symphonies the way Mahlerites do today, so I thought it would be an interesting experiment to come let a world-class orchestra unfurl this symphony right before my eyes and ears. I figured I'd still have a lot of advantages over the novice listener since I know a lot of other Mahler, I know about symphonic forms, orchestration, etc. So, except for glancing through the program notes ahead of time, I stuck to my plan, not having cued up even a second of the recording I own.

Maybe because I'm not used to approaching music this way, I think it took me a while to settle in and just allow myself to listen "in the moment" to all the extraordinary things that Mahler and James Levine can do with an orchestra. In this regard, many of my favorite moments were the quieter, reflective passages that always seem to arrive as if by magic. Jamie Somerville's gorgeous horn solo in the middle of the 1st movement, the kooky, mystical cowbells that would appear out of nowhere. (If I had infinite time and resources, I'd definitely find a way to make a Bruce Dickinson meets Mahler sketch. In fact, this discussion group snippet suggests that Ben Zander wins the "more cowbell" prize for Mahler 6. The idea of having Christopher Walken channelling Ben Zander is just too funny, but I've probably lost all my readers with this digression...)

I enjoyed much of the first movement, although subsequent listenings haven't changed my feeling that the grim march theme is trying a little too hard to be serious. For some reason, I didn't fully find my way into the Scherzo, but the last two movements were consistently compelling. Although it's a silly thing, I'll admit that anticipation of the famous hammer-blows helped keep me focused in the last movement - unfortunately, our side balcony seats made it impossible to see most of what was going on back in that percussion corner (one reason the cowbells came across so mystically), but you could see audience members craning in that direction quite often, especially when the hammers were due. Interesting to think how just being aware that those three climactic events were on the schedule (they left out the third hammer blow, per Mahler's revision, but there's still a big arrival there) was enough to frame a 30-minute long movement.

But again, you see my bias towards listening within a framework. Maybe it would have been better not to know there'd be any hammer blows - or not to know if the last movement would take 5 minutes or 30 minutes. And speaking of frameworks, I was reminded how having a good experiential knowledge of sonata form also made the first movement (almost as long as the last) easier to process, even though it's almost comical to think that the formal design could really have anything in common with a 3-minute Clementi sonatina movement. (Comical, but quite important in understanding the evolution of musical semantics.)

So, I mostly wish I'd spent more time getting to know Mahler 6 ahead of time. As I wrote way back in one of my first blog posts, I rarely find myself completely taken in by a piece on first hearing. I say "mostly wish" because I do think the experiment was a useful one. Actually, I just spent ten writer's-block minutes trying to decide how to articulate that usefulness. Here's what makes it difficult. When you really know a piece well, when you experience it in performance, it's much easier to make a clear memory of that experience. Thus, I think it's safe to say there were many moments I loved that I simply don't remember clearly, for the simple reason that I didn't have the music already mapped out in my memory banks.

A couple of minor points about the BSO experience: In a world in which information can be moved and managed so easily, it's frustrating that the program doesn't list all the actual performers on the stage. In a big work like this, especially, many extras are called for, but just about any concert by a BSO-like band includes some subs. I don't understand why we can't see those names - if not in the printed program, then online. It's like going to a Red Sox game and having an unnamed pinch-runner step in for David Ortiz. It was fun to see several players on stage who I'd accompanied back in grad school days. A few of them are full-timers, so their names were printed, but many players on stage went anonymous, including at least one whose name I was trying to recall. No help from the BSO there.

Also, because Mahler had two different ideas about the ordering of the middle two movements, the program booklet specified that Friday's audience would get the Andante-Scherzo order, Saturday (we) would get the Scherzo-Andante order, and then Tuesday night's order would be decided based on what had worked best. That's cool, and a good way to get an audience thinking about why such decisions make a difference, which gets them thinking about how much functions, etc. All great. So, since they must have known most audience members would only be there for one night, why not post the final Tuesday decision on the website? I couldn't find mention of the final decision on the website or in the Globe. Why make this a point of interest if you're not going to provide some followup?

It's not like I can't find out the answer. It's just that it shows a lack of imagination about how a web presence can really enhance a concert experience. Maybe I'll talk more about that when I get around to describing our paperless programs for The Doctor in Spite of Himself. For now, I still haven't even gotten to my other happy musical experience of the weekend, but that story will definitely have to wait until tomorrow. I may be on Quad Break, but I still have a stack of projects I need to start grading - or, at minimum, I need to start procrastinating about them.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Music That Makes Me Happy (Part 1 of Part 2)

It was certainly a musically satisfying weekend, so let's continue on with the theme of happy musical experiences (note that happy doesn't always means happy). Two major musical events, one expected, one not so much. Here we go:

1) Saturday night, my wife and I enjoyed our first night out at the BSO as subscribers. It was quite an auspicious start, given that the entire program was Mahler's monumental 6th symphony. And true, it's a decidely not happy piece, but the evening was wonderful. A few observations. First, although I know that an "event" piece like this isn't exactly a typical symphony experience, the whole evening could not have been less like the strawman depictions of classical concerts that Greg Sandow and many of his commenters tend to emphasize. The orchestra and audience struck me as energized and engaged; the audience did not look particularly formal or elite (I felt almost overdressed in my jacket and tie), the way Sandow characterizes a standard symphony crowd here:

"In the audience, the men are mostly wearing suits and ties. They look as if they might be going to a meeting in the board room of a bank, while Jed went to his concert wearing his hair, as he always does, in a ponytail. That alone, at most classical events, would mark him as different. Classical concerts don’t attract many men in ponytails. Nor do they attract many artists, rumpled intellectuals, rock musicians (even if more than a few rock musicians have tried to write classical music), or anyone, really, who looks (and you can choose your own word here) hip, or casual, or relaxed, or countercultural."

It may just be that Boston's not such a glamorous town, but I saw a wide range of comfortable, relaxed looking people -and they weren't all old. Some were even younger than me! Actually, now that I think about it, lately Sandow has been concerned about audiences and performers not looking hip enough. Read here how horrifed he was by the picture below. It's an admittedly unglamorous photo of orchestra musicians dressed like orchestra musicians and looking like they're really concentrating. Sandow writes, "People in the outside world would never guess that these people are performing for the public." Really? I can't imagine what he means by that. As far as I can tell, his point is that the musicians don't have fashionably styled hair or, what's really inferred, they're not attractive enough to attract people to this music.
But, this is really an argument where either side can easily provide compelling evidence, and I'm sure there will be BSO evenings that we'll find less electric. I'm just gonna say that the audience, by and large, did not seem bored, and the orchestra members looked like they were having a great time - not by flashing André Rieu-like smiles out to the audience (although Levine was beaming often enough), or even by smiling frequently, but rather by playing with such intensity. I think even an unitiated audience member could have picked up on this commitment and passion, even if the length and unfamiliarity of the music had been too problematic for happy listening.

Whoops, time's up. I have much more to say about this concert, and I haven't even gotten yet to the second "happy" musical experience of the weekend, but I'm going to go ahead and post this much. Stay tuned...

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Open Book Test

After resisting for awhile, I took the Facebook leap this summer. In a way, it fits my techy side, although I suppose the success of Facebook is really more predicated on how un-techy it is. For example, I've been sharing pictures with family and friends for years, setting up my own custom-designed albums, etc. all without the use of Facebook - but it's becoming clear that a big part of Facebook's appeal is that just about all the content comes straight to you; not only do you not have to work very hard to upload content - more importantly, you don't have to work hard to seek it out.

I've realized that one reason my Doctor in Spite of Himself website wasn't a huge success is that it still required getting someone to the site in the first place. My experience tells me that asking people to go visit a website or even emailing them about it doesn't yield much, even from college students, who I once assumed were as avid about searching the net as I am. For me, the dawn of the Internet was most importantly about the thrill of the search - the fact that I could actively go out and find just about anything. But, the student generation that has driven the Facebook phenomenon seem to be much more passive about all that information. I'm amazed at how often I have to tell students how to seek out recordings and scores - I'm supposed to be the old geezer here.

Facebook's biggest strengths are its newness (it's not even 5 years old!), its omnipresence in the life of its users, and the way it pushes information out to those users (which is what keeps them present). Social networking has been possible for years on the net. My far-flung family used to have such a wonderfully busy email circle that I was able to turn 7 years of group correspondence into a telephone-book-sized Christmas present a few years back. (I need to blog more about this book at some point: it's 500+ pages of incredibly small text - and all my reading-mad family members read it cover to cover!) However, it takes work to keep that sort of thing going. The genius of Facebook is that it builds community (i.e. atracts committed users) from the virtual equivalent of small talk - which isn't so strange, since small talk is an important part of any community. Yes, there's something Samuel Beckett-like about the Facebook world.

All of this is hard to appreciate until you've actually tried Facebook for yourself - I finally joined, in part, because I could never grasp just exactly what made it work until I jumped in. I still don't know for sure what I think, but I've been surprised to connect not only with past and current students but with high school classmates I hadn't seen in more than twenty years! In fact, that's probably what I've enjoyed the most, although I suspect that the ongoing intrusion of forty-somethings into the world may be what spells its doom. How long can the college students be content to share their cool world of endless party photos and idle chitchat with distinctly less cool older people - who also post (old) party photos and idle chitcat? (Please understand that I hold idle chitchat in the highest regard.) Or, Facebook may move beyond its college-level core identity and become something more - well, who knows?

I went to a faculty lecture about Facebook this week, and was startled to be reminded how new Facebook is, how young its leader is, and how many missteps the company has already made deciding how to handle all this personal information that people have casually tossed out into the unknown. One thing that's clear is that the Facebook powers-that-be understand that the medium has to keep changing to seem fresh - which means there's no telling what's next.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Music That Makes Me Happy (Part 1?)

I mentioned in my last post how incredibly satisfying it was to read through the two Mozart piano quartets earlier this week. I sometimes find myself so consumed with postmodern angst about the role/purpose/relevance of classical music, it's nice just to forget all that and remember why I love music. So, I'm thinking of starting a "music that makes me happy" series to remind myself of how I got myself into this life.

Today's installment: listening to my daughter's Saturday morning orchestra rehearse the Contrapunctus #1 from Bach's Art of Fugue. It is music that could fairly be described as severely austere - like watching mathematical equations come to life, as I suggested to one of my classes the other day. And yet, beautiful in the most elemental, honest, unmanipulative way. (Not that I have anything against manipulative beauty, Messrs. Tchaikovsky, Puccini, etc.) It's not easy music to count, so I had Daughter of MMmusing playing along with the Emerson String Quartet the last few days - that seems to be paying off as she's holding her own quite well on the stage down below me, while I sit and type. Of course, the Emerson guys sound terrific - you can see a bit of their take on that fugue here - but there's something extra remarkable about seeing thirty-something 9-14 year olds putting it together. Or, to suggest something more extreme, I found it really beautiful listening to DoMM playing along with the Emersons.

Speaking of youth and Bach and extramusical reasons for loving the purest of musical creations, here's my favorite online video of the Bach Double, my favorite-ever piece of music. There are more musicologically authentic online versions, but the one below reminds me of all those formative experiences I had hearing my sisters play the Bach Double with massed violins at Suzuki workshops here and there. This is as good as it gets.

UPDATE: This, also, isn't so bad:

Thursday, October 2, 2008

The Doctor is Out - and I'm back (?)

So, now that The Doctor is behind me, it's time to see about reviving this poor blog. I recently read the following advice to bloggers from ArtsJournal's Douglas McLennan: "Mostly, though, I tell them that the way to get the biggest audience is to post as often as possible and to be consistent about it. If you post every day and then suddenly skip a week, you lose most of your readership. But you can post once a month and if you're consistent, you'll capture a set of readers. The big numbers though, go to bloggers who post often." Eeeek! It feels like he's pointing straight at me - except that, of course, he will never have heard of my blog and I tend to substitute "two weeks" for "skip a week." But, I really shouldn't get started back by blogging about blogging.

On the other hand, life is still too busy to put together something long and organized. How about long and disorganized?

For anyone who may be wondering, the shows went well and seemed to be successful in all the important ways. My arms didn't fall off, in spite of my 'once-every-three-years' conducting schedule. The students did well. We had good crowds. I'd like to attribute the good crowds to my innovative little production website, but it never got as much attention as I'd hoped it would. I still believe it's a pretty cool site, and that it suggests a potentially unintimidating way to introduce a work to an audience, but maybe the karaoke idea is too kooky, or maybe just not enough people ever saw it. (Or maybe it was just badly done.)

There is a danger with such a site of making people feel like they need to do "homework" before going out to be entertained. It's really a Catch-22: on the one hand, I want to acknowledge that opera is enough outside of the common experience that some pre-show preparatory experiences could be useful; on the other hand, this idea might suggest to people that enjoying an opera is work, and who wants to work at being entertained? At any rate, I think our good-sized audiences had more to do with the social-networking wonders of Facebook than they did with my animated singalongs, but I'm far from having set my last axe dancing.

It is, of course, a letdown to find myself in post-show mode. The last few weeks were round-the-clock experiences, and I wouldn't have it any other way. Besides, a big upcoming event always provides a good way to avoid doing more mundane things like cleaning my office, grading, mowing the lawn, practicing the piano, eating. The good news is, I can always find a way to keep putting most of those things off.

Tuesday night I had the pleasure of going out with the wife for an evening of chamber music - piano quartets specifically. We read both Mozart piano quartets and the Brahms C Minor piano quartet, which is one of my favorite-ever pieces. However, the Brahms really felt like a bit of a grind since we were all sightreading and it's quite dense. On the other hand, the Mozart quartets were sheer delight, and a good reminder of why I became a musician in the first place. They are such merry little pieces, with surprises and deft touches around every corner - and they also reminded me of how much such music (unlike the Brahms) is probably at its best in this sort of social, low-pressure, sight-reading situation. I'm sure I'd prefer an evening of sightreading these pieces to hearing some slick group of professionals perform them. So, part of me wants to go into more detail about what makes the music so great, but the wiser and lazier part of me is satisfied for now to think happily about the experience without too much actual thinking about it.

The other enjoyable diversion of the week came about quite unexpectedly. I was asked to help out creating a quick-fix interim soundtrack for a little documentary video. I'd rather not give any more precise details, but it has been a fascinating experience. In this case, I'm not composing anything, but rather looking for available music that suits the video well. (Copyright isn't really an issue, because the version I'm helping with won't be sold and will probably just be shown once or twice in non-commercial settings.) So many interesting questions arise about how music functions - aside from the whole music-as-background issue, which doesn't really bother me at all, there's the sleight-of-hand ways in which music can create a context through a viewer's built-in associations about that music, regardless of what the music may have been intended to do. It also makes me challenge my own ideas about taste, etc. when considering what will work best for an intended audience. It's a kind of experience that I think every music student should have - maybe even more important than memorizing the K. numbers for all the Mozart piano concerti. (Which is good, because all those K numbers are starting to run together for me.)

Setting up that last little hyperlink reminds me that it's time to do some MMhousekeeping. There are many multimedia creations that haven't made it into the Multimedia Musing Machine yet, for example. So, that should give me something to get back into the blogging game, not to mention a thousand posts that I've written quite eloquently - in my imagination. Let's see, I still want to tackle the music appreciation question that came up here. I had all the answers a few weeks ago - I wonder if I still do. I also will likely have some more post-Doctoral musing to do, including some thoughts about our paperless programs and the laptop that almost let me down. But for now, back to grading . . . or whatever else I can come up with.