Something new

Still catching up. I want to talk about my visit to Jackson, MI a couple of weeks ago (and apologies to my old and new friends there, who might have expected to see something about them here earlier).

The outline: Stephen Osmond, an old friend of mine from graduate studies at the Yale School of Music (he was a tenor, I was a composer), is both music director and executive director of the Jackson Symphony. Sounds like a recipe for disaster, but no way. Steve is outstanding in both roles. And fearless, I must say, in confronting his orchestra’s future. Like most orchestras, they face diminished funding as they look at their future. Steve faces that manfully, and brought me out to help with what seems to be needed, a new way of engaging with the city of Jackson.

I’ll have more to say on what happened at my visit, and, how, exactly, an orchestra might engage the community. But since time is tight today, I’ll start with something really terrific that the orchestra is doing, something I’ve never encountered before.

Like many orchestras, they have a composer in residence, Jonathan Bruce Brown, chair of the music department at Spring Arbor University, near Jackson. Bruce (whom I enjoyed meeting during my visit) is a good choice, I think. His expertly crafted music is a pleasure to hear, and I’d guess goes down well with both the orchestra and the audience.

But get this — the way the orchestra is introducing the piece they’ve commissioned from Bruce this year. It’ll be premiered on the last concert of the season. And at each concert before that, Bruce will come on stage and present his work at whatever stage it’s reached. That won’t mean performing the entire work in progress (which might, at any stage, be a work in fragments). But Bruce will talk about the piece, and maybe the orchestra (or individual musicians) will play parts of it.

I think this is a fabulous idea. I heard the first installment, at the first concert of the year (an engaging glimpse at various aspects of romantic music, featuring Ian Hobson making his expert way through the Schumann piano concerto). All Bruce did was talk about what he was going to do — what the piece would be, and what the preview process would be like. He was hard to resist, and I’m sure he drew everyone in. At the next concert, I’m sure all the subscribers will be wondering what he’ll have to show them.

As I said, I’ve never run into this idea before. Has anyone else ever done it? If so, I’d love to hear about it. Certainly it’s an idea that others should steal.

Share on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterShare on RedditEmail this to someone


  1. Jim Grace says


    I appreciate your comments. Steve Osmond, the entire JSO team, and supporters work hard to promote & support the performance of music work in Jackson. While Classical music performance remains our cornerstone, after hearing your noon comments, I know you appreciate our support of all forms of music expression.

    Thanks for coming to our community.

    Jim Grace – Board Member & long time supporter of the JSO

  2. says

    It’s funny you should ask, Greg. While I don’t know of any other organizations doing this in live concerts, on Nov. 15 Meet The Composer will launch a new website called MTC Studio, which allows visitors to follow six rising composers through the progress of their works-in-progress, with blog posts, videos, and audio samples. The resulting pieces will be premiered in a festival called “Three-City Dash,” taking place in NYC in April 2011. The URL is

  3. says

    Hi Greg,

    My organization has a project called Composer Alive in which we commission a piece to be composed in installments. We perform and record each installment in front of an audience and post it to our site. We’ve done this since 2005. You can see the project here

    We also made a 60 minute documentary about our collaboration with Beijing composer Xiaogang Ye. The doc features, among other things, Henry Fogel’s take on the state of Classical music and contains footage of the installment rehearsals. This aired on Chicago’s PBS station in 2007. It can be watched here.

  4. says


    The composer Rob Kapilow did something similar in the late ’90s. He arrived in Kansas City having been commissioned to write and conduct a piece. On the cab ride in, he learned from the cabbie that everybody in town was arguing about the new Oldenburg–van Bruggen sculptures, Shuttlecocks, on the vast lawn of the art museum. (These are, as the name implies, gigantic badminton birdies.)

    Being interviewed at the local classical radio station, he made a comment such as, “I wonder what a piece about Shuttlecocks would sound like.” The switchboards lit up—and it wasn’t even a call-in show!

    So, for the next few weeks till the piece was finalized, Rob would bring in recorded excerpts to the radio show and get audience reaction to his ideas, all on the theme of “What would Shuttlecocks sound like?” There were hundreds of opinions. The discussion mushroomed to build a buzz in the local press and, when his piecs Shuttlecocks was finally performed, the turnout was tremendous. Many people who normally didn’t attend classical concerts wanted to hear what Shuttlecocks sounded like.

    A great story, and this is a composer who moved to the rez to solicit Blackfeet participation in his piece on Lewis and Clark, and insisted on including a budding teenage rapper in his Kennedy Center commission. His ideas are very much in harmony with yours.

  5. Jerry Yoshitomi says


    Alan Brown’s research indicates that the higher the level of anticipation and preparation, the higher the level of satisfaction with the actual experience.

    In Jackson it seems that they’ll have a higher level of satisfaction with this new work than they might have without the ‘work in progress’ reports.