How is it possible that I’m overwhelmed and underwhelmed by something at the same time?!?!
They want to grow the youth audience for classical music so juxtapose the music with a youth pop culture reference. OK, I get it. But I do often wonder exactly why initiatives such as these seem to want to target the kind of youth audience that watches/listens to Miley Cyrus and Rihanna. I suspect that they are too tough a market to crack. On the other hand, there are plenty of highly educated, intelligent, curious people out there who are not classical music fans but they listen to the smarter end of pop music… like, I dunno, London Grammar or Bjork or Rufus Wainright. Now, I am convinced that if classical music world learnt to effectively communicate with those people, we would increase our audience. Music videos don’t have to be so highly sexualised and vaguely exploitative to be popular. (Gotye+Kimbra anyone?)
Also, it is not only young people who are not listening to classical music. There are plenty of older folk who prefer Jimi Hendrix or The Beatles or Pink Floyd or y’know, the music of their own youth to Beethoven and Mozart. Are those people won over by classical music + soft porn? Only as far as the porn itself. I doubt they’re rushing out to buy Dvorak.
How is it possible that I’m overwhelmed and underwhelmed by something at the same time?!?!
This week, I got my very favourite review I’ve ever received and it was from a self professed “musical novice”.
Generally when you’re a classical performer, the reviews you get are from specialist classical music writers. This is all well and good but there is a certain sense of preaching-to-the-converted about it. After all, who’s going to read those reviews? Only people already interested in classical music which doesn’t give much help to those performers like myself who are keen to expand our audience further.
So I was pretty chuffed when this review appeared. After I read the review, I immediately backtracked. What were the things that I said in my publicity materials and in my press release to garner the interest of a ‘novice’? Basically it was two very simple things.
1. I framed the event in terms of something that means a great deal to at least 50% of the population - feminism.
2. I spoke in a vernacular kind of way, without the use of musical jargon.
And it worked! It made me smile all over my face to read the words she used to describe the music (“Uplifting, complex, intriguing”) and also my presentation (“Articulate, charming, passionate”). It meant much more to me than a musicology-trained critic’s analysis.
I want all the world to know how great classical music is, how great classical music by women composers is. It’s all about communication, speaking to those who’ve never had a classical music experience in a language they can understand. This does not mean ‘dumbing down’, as there are plenty of smart, educated, curious people out there who are not classical music fans. It means classical music world making connections with these people. Classical musicians need to respect the tastes, the experiences, the intelligence of those from ‘outside’ and invite them into the experience. That’s gotta help expand our audience.
Classical Music is Dead.
Mark Vanhoenacker thinks so, but is cautiously optimistic…? “Myself, I cling to the forlorn hope that classical music has been down for so long, it must somehow be due for a comeback.”
Claire Chase sees an opportunity instead… “Yes, she said, we read daily about the implosion of orchestras, the winnowing number of jobs for an expanding work force. But, far from dying, classical music is “just being born,” Ms. Chase said, with “new performance practices that put creators, interpreters, historians, educators, theorists in the same entrepreneurial spaces.”
Whatevs. It’s not dead to me. I just composed a new piano piece :D
Live Music Matters: Live Music and Performance Action Plan
I’m off to a meeting this afternoon at City of Sydney where they’ll be discussing their “Live Music Matters: Live Music and Performance Action Plan”. Classical music has been notably absent from this conversation in the media, because the whole debate is somewhat predictably centred around the bar/pub music scene and the accompanying issues of entertainment/alcohol licensing and noise pollution.
It is time to make our voices heard, classical fans!!!!
I have a suggestion. What about more non-amplified music in existing council venues with naturally resonant acoustics? Orchestras, choirs and chamber music groups are much lower impact in terms of noise. A good mix of both professional and amateur classical music events, concerts and rehearsals in venues like the beautifully newly refurbished Glebe Town Hall, for instance, would create vibrant creative hubs for music makers of all levels of experience and would inject some life back into the music scene. How? When you get people involved in music creation, they become good audiences too. Just take a look at Moorambilla Festival for a shining example of that! It’s starting to happen e.g. the lovely folks of the Glebe Salon Orchestra already rehearse in Glebe Town Hall, but a whole lot more of that kind of thing would be great. Further to that, shouldn’t Sydney’s flagship classical music organisations (Sydney Symphony Orchestra, Sydney Philharmonia Choirs, Sydney Children’s Choir and Sydney Youth Orchestra) all have a regular and visible presence in their own city’s council venues?
The only catch is this: there would need to be top quality grand pianos in these venues. Spend the money on that instead of trouble-creating amplification systems. That’s what I say.
Read a few words from the City of Sydney Live Music and Performance Taskforce here
Moya Henderson in the Sydney Morning Herald, 11 October 2013.
"If Australia’s major music organisations have displayed a marked tendency to commission and perform compositions by men on this country’s main stages, can it be explained as unconscious bias? What I hear, from female composer colleagues and others, indicates they believe the discrimination is deliberate.
The experience of women as second-class citizens throughout history is no different in music. And what else should we infer about the ranking of women composers when, year after year, Musica Viva Australia, for example, commissions music for its main stage that includes scarcely a note written by a woman? Other major organisations are resolute in displaying a similar preference for music written by men. Is that how deeply entrenched women’s ”second-class” status is?
There are long-time patrons of Musica Viva who remember an earlier, more egalitarian era. They have sought to promote women’s music to Musica Viva only to be told there are no decent women composers.
When society fails to register how few female composers get a hearing on Australia’s main stages, the stigma of sexism besmirches all women. Is women’s music still to be regarded as less worthy of being commissioned, performed, professionally recorded and broadcast? Both genders, and all sides of politics, acknowledge the elevation of just one woman to the new federal Liberal government cabinet is unacceptable. Many of us were appalled at the way Julia Gillard was treated when she was Australia’s first female prime minister. Women are finally registering the unendurable inequity of this state of affairs.
In her blog, ABC Radio presenter Emma Ayres recently decried the fact there are so few compositions by women listed for her to broadcast. Is this because the ABC music programmers cannot find women’s music to play? Is it because the ABC does not want to pay performers for unlimited broadcast rights on older recordings? I am told that lobbying for airplay on ABC-FM is intense; I believe women composers need to clamour more vociferously for a hearing.
It is time women, and men who appreciate the talent of women, combined their power to overhaul the situation. If people want to hear women’s music, then more of those in power will consider commissioning it. They could also offer financial assistance to women composers to create high-standard performances and recordings. Relying on the ABC to do this is not working. As far as art music is concerned, the ABC neutered itself when it allowed the state orchestras to be removed from its influence. It’s a tragedy there isn’t one ABC orchestra left. Women, too, must leave bequests for women’s music to be written and performed. It is not fair to leave all the philanthropy to men.
The Australia Council for the Arts should have at its disposal an information infrastructure that enables staff to notice when a pattern of bias emerges. In the case of Musica Viva, it should have been picked up sooner that no women composers have been among the ”featured” composers commissioned and performed from 2000 onwards. This state of affairs distorts appreciation for the complete canon of Australian music.
When exactly did classical performers stop being that — i.e. performers? This is a question I’ve been asking myself for some time now. I can’t count how many classical musicians I’ve seen shuffle, wander, or slouch onto stage in an uninspired fashion. Either that or be so tense and uptight and wrapped up in the traditions (or habits) of classical concert etiquette that they stop looking human at all.
I’m proud to be a guest blogger for Greg Sandow’s blog on the future of classical music. Exciting times! Click on the source for more…
Max Hole, the new head of Universal’s classical music label, has this to say about how classical musicians need to reinvent. As usual, the journalist and the online commenters focus on how alienating the traditions are, that you have to dress up properly and know not to clap between movements etc. Whatevs.
If I could say one thing to my orchestral colleagues on this matter, it would be this - I want to see them communicate their joy in playing classical music. Classical performance should be a real event! As an audient, I should be feeling a kind of tangible, visceral excitement at seeing 100 musicians on the stage united toward a common goal. I certainly feel it as soon as the music starts, but before then…
I’ve been to major symphony orchestra concerts where I felt like I wasn’t meant to be there. I felt that my presence went unacknowledged and they couldn’t have cared less that the people out there had paid good money to come and hear them and feel the energy and excitement of live performance. I can’t count the number of times I’ve seen this - musicians shuffling onto stage in dribs and drabs over a period of about 20 mins, not necessarily to warm up their instruments but to have a chat with their colleagues, as you might in a rehearsal situation. Some of the ladies even bring their handbags on stage and put them under their seats. Wtf. I’m sure there’s a locker backstage somewhere. Anyway they’re just lounging around, all laid back and casual and it hasn’t any sense of occasion.
If I want a room full of casual, laid back people in formal dress with some classical music attached somewhere, I will pay to go to some pretentious charity ball - at least then I’ll know that my money is going to some noble cause and not to the salaries of a bunch of musicians who, judging by the way they come on stage, look like they don’t give a rat’s arse about classical music.
But here’s the rub; I know for a fact that these colleagues of mine care a great deal about their music and they play it extraordinarily well. But until they can communicate that effectively not only in their playing, but in their performance attitude, on social media, in the way they speak to regular non-musician people about it, nothing will change. Regular folk will continue to think (wrongly!) that classical music is stuffy and elitist and doesn’t speak to them.
I’m doing my best to change the state of play through the way that I perform, but I am only one person. How else is the industry to reignite the fire?
Solistenensemble Kaleidoskop in Hardcore 2
These guys do a nice thing recontextualising their performances of abstract instrumental music. They’re here for the Sydney Festival, and I’m disappointed that I’ll miss them (*sad face*)
I love a little instrumental theatre like this, though I prefer a more absurdist Mauricio Kagel style. This is just a little too serious too much of the time… but still totes brilliant!
Adding my voice to the proverbial chorus on this one - the Landfill Harmonic. It’s so inspiring to see such resourcefulness in the face of great hardship, and to see such joy in making music (classical music, at that!).
Tim Paris, Winner of Three Minute Thesis
"The Three Minute Thesis (3MT®) is a research communication competition developed by The University of Queensland. The exercise develops academic, presentation, and research communication skills and supports the development of research students’ capacity to effectively explain their research in three minutes in a language appropriate to an intelligent but non-specialist audience."
This whole idea rather appeals to me. I think it would be a wonderful thing to start a similar thing amongst students in Music Schools and Conservatoria. So many classical musicians are particularly bad at talking about their music to the uninitiated and given where we’re at with classical audiences in decline globally, this was be a good kickstart into the future.
Limelight Magazine felt the need to publish this slightly preachy article on Classical Music concert etiquette. Is this really necessary?
Personally, I try to keep all my solo concerts as friendly as possible (ensemble stuff over which I have no control, well, that’s another matter entirely!). At my last solo concert I asked “Hands up if you’ve never been to a classical music concert before?” and I would say that roughly 20% of the crowd answered yes. I told them straight away up front that they could clap at any time they felt they wanted to show some appreciation. The interesting thing was that they didn’t clap between the movements of Philip Glass’s Metamorphosis. Maybe they were still a little scared of behaving appropriately? Or maybe they were actually just really in the music? I prefer to think the latter, but I’m sure for some of them the former is more accurate! *lol* At any rate, I did feel an energy, a hushed anticipation in the room between movements and it really helped me as a performer to focus on what was coming next. I was upfront about my expectations and it somehow managed to pay some dividends in the end. Go figure.
Another recent experience of audience behaviour. I recently performed in a concert with Sydney Children’s Choir, a world premiere work that was the culmination of a bunch of outreach workshops with some kids from Sydney’s western suburbs, kids who don’t normally have any opportunity to make music. To me, the audience seemed very noisy and distracting - there were phones and iPads and people chatting and eating popcorn and… it was as if we’d all gone to the movies to see the latest school holiday blockbuster. It was annoying me that people weren’t really paying proper attention. However, when I stepped outside and saw some of the parents of the kids from those workshops, they were so excited and gushing about how it’s the best thing their kid had ever done and they were so grateful and when were we coming back to do another. Wow. I kept thinking to myself “If you’d really listened, you would have gotten so much more from that performance”. But maybe I’m just being snobby? Argh, the more I think about it, the more shades of grey I seem to find!
At any rate, I have vaguely niggling doubts about this article. I do feel that some people will find this prescription for behaviour a little distancing, perhaps even alienating. Good on them for trying, I guess…. :s
Pianists are not boring
I’ve been ranting and raving a little bit on classical musician biographies lately, and how boring they tend to be. I admit that I rarely feel compelled to read about my colleagues, because what they put out there on the internet is as dry and unappetising as burnt toast.
I’ve been doing a workshop in Branding with the inspirational Greg Sandow. ”Capitalist bullshit!” I hear you say. But it isn’t. It’s just putting an accurate picture of who you are out there to the world. Money making really hasn’t much to do with it. But that’s another conversation for another day.
My homework this week was to collect images and words that describe how I would like to be seen by the world. It prompted me to write these words, a kind of biography of my life as a pianist. I have other biographies, as a composer, an arranger, a writer, an educator, a conductor (these are also other conversations for other days) but here’s the Sally as Pianist story.
I had a friend once, an alternative country rock musician who faded in and out of my life like a chord on a slide guitar. She was more than a little eccentric. One thing she said, probably just a casual comment to her but somehow monumentally important to me, was this; “You don’t choose your instrument, “ she said, “Your instrument chooses you.”
The piano chose me. It’s been a long and fruitful relationship, a relationship of major significance and intimate proportions.
Sure, I had flirtations, liaisons, affairs with other instruments. The pipe organ took me to great lofty heights, both figuratively and literally. The bassoon escorted me to the symphony orchestra party. The accordion attempted to liberate me by trying to be a different kind of piano, a chest piano, a portable version of my first love. None of these instruments stuck. But the piano. The piano! She has remained steadfast and true through all of this upheaval. She insists also that my dalliances have brought new excitement to our relationship. I would have to agree.
Like a lot of couples, we tend to finish each others sentences. We read the musical scores together and know where to give it a little space or a little urgency, where to make it boldly technicolour or delicately translucent. “Chiaroscuro”, she whispers, “Light and shade.” We shape the music together into what we like to think is an higher truth, an abstract one for which words of description are inadequate.
Life experience, theoretical knowledge and gut instinct combine into a single focussed expression. There’s only one way for us to say these things, it would seem. This is why I play the piano.
Thank you, Interwebs Brains Trust (again)
Looks like my three-minute-improvisation-for-encore idea for this concert has proved overwhelmingly popular, so I’m going to do it.
I’m really excited about the prospect. I’ve improvised in many situations before, but never in a solo recital. Quite nervous, but I feel in my heart that it will be liberating. Just a gut feeling, ya know.
Do I have the best bunch of followers on the whole of Tumblr? I’m sure I do.