Warmest holiday wishes

rafa Xmas 2011

I hardly have to say what I'm happiest about this Christmas. My little son Rafa, who -- if I followed my deepest heart -- would be in every post I make here. If you get my newsletter, you've already seen this image, which (no surprise) also doubles as our Christmas card. (And if you don't get my newsletter, and would like to, you can subscribe to it here.) Rafa is such a joy, maybe the greatest joy I've ever had. He teaches me what's most important in life. And for all of you, all my readers -- for whom I'm so grateful -- I hope you … [Read more...]

Last orchestra photos this year

blog - australian bburg 2

Well…the thread is calming down. With its flood of comments. See my previous posts -- I complain that orchestra photos are very bad, and then, in response to comments, I post two installments of better ones, suggested by readers, here and here.  But I do want to show some other photos readers sent me, or led me to. On Facebook, Julian Day, a composer and radio producer I met in Australia, said the Australian Brandenburg Orchestra, a period instrument group, has lively photos. For instance: And Julian seconded my thought, in my … [Read more...]

More better photos

blog bso 1

More suggestions for good photos of orchestras, and orchestra musicians: Katie Kellert wrote, in the comments to my first post, in which I complained about how boring orchestra photos are: I got a big kick out of the alternate shots the Baltimore Symphony did for their members' bio pages a while back (For instance, Rene Hernandez and Chris Wolfe, showing them with items that seem to reflect their interests outside of music. I also found it telling that a lot of them chose to just have another photo with their instrument... it sort of reads … [Read more...]

Better orchestra photos

blog NZSO 3

So many thanks to people who commented on my last post! I complained about boring photos of orchestras in that post, and several people offered links to better ones. What I'm going to do now is pass on those links, along with some photos, and ask what people think. Are these photos improvements? How, why? Or how could they be better? I'll save any thoughts I might have for later. Right now, I want your opinion! I'll do this in two or three posts. Here's a start: Robbie Ellis mentioned an orchestra he's been involved with, as composer … [Read more...]

Boring, boring, boring

Photos of orchestras almost always look boring

A footnote -- or an intermezzo -- in the midst of what I've been saying about how orchestras should talk about themselves. (Here and here.) Whenever I do a post, I look for an image, to give the page at least a little sizzle. So to find one for my last post, I Googled "orchestra," and clicked on "images." The results were ghastly. Utterly boring. Pointless. And these  (most, if not all) are official photos released by the orchestra managements. What's the point of them? What do they tell us? An orchestra is made up of musicians, … [Read more...]

Orchestral challenge — second post

Why aren't your concerts exciting?

In my last post, I urged orchestras not to worry so much about what their audience likes, and to program music they themselves like. Presenting to the world something more vivid, more individual, more compelling than (to paraphrase the kind of language so often found in orchestra publicity) "Tchaikovsky's beloved violin concerto." The concerto, please note, isn't the problem. It's the language used to talk about it. Better to say (if you dared), "The concerto our soloist loves the most, but also the one that drives her crazy because it's … [Read more...]

A challenge for orchestras


Not so long ago, I happened to have dinner with a businessman -- CEO of his not so small company -- who'd been asked to join the board of his local orchestra. His take on the orchestra business, speaking as a businessman: All American orchestras seem to do more or less the same thing, and all of them are in trouble. Therefore the business model doesn't work. Seems simple enough. And a lot of people would agree. But what's being done to change the business model? My suggestion to this man, assuming he did join the board: First make sure … [Read more...]

The relevance trap

Don't ask if you're relevant. Ask who you're trying to reach.

All through the US, classical music institutions are searching for relevance. They want to be more relevant to their communities. But I think the word "relevant" is itself a problem. It sends us down a path whose meaning and direction isn't clear. And it reinforces some of the attitudes about classical music and the wider world that got us into trouble in the first place. First problem:  If we say we need to be relevant, then we're also saying that -- right now -- we think we're irrelevant. Which means we've defined ourselves as … [Read more...]

Not so refined

handel opera

The problem with René Jacobs’ Handel recordings, says Stanley Sadie (the distinguished musicologist) is that their “rough and explosive sound” is “alien to the refined and elegant age to which the music belongs.” Or so I read on Sunday in a story about Jacobs' critical reception, in the Arts & Leisure section of the New York Times. And there we see much of the problem that classical music has these days -- it’s out of touch with reality. So many people want it to be refined and elegant, more so than the world we live in. But to do … [Read more...]

Building interest

cradling baby

As I wrote yesterday: There’s one thing that everyone should do. Look at who your fans are now, and find ways to bind them to you very tightly, and to increase their numbers. (The photo-- on the main blog page -- isn't my baby, by the way. You'll find it at the end of this post, where it shows how one of my students loved one piece of music. And how she thought she might find an image to communicate that love.) So -- continuing from where my last post left off -- how can you do this? Well, you’re going to start with whatever fans you have … [Read more...]

How to do it

How do you network with your audience

And so -- resuming my October theme, of building our own audience -- how, exactly, can we do it? (Well, it's November. But of course my schedule was upended by our lovely baby: here and here.]  Let me start with some optimism. If you have any audience at all, you can make it bigger. If you believe in yourself, that is, and (of course) if other people want to hear your music. But don't assume they won't! You never know how big an audience you can have until you try to build one. And if you don't believe that anyone wants to hear you, why are … [Read more...]

Wonderful baby

my baby Rafa with his arms up

Fatherhood most definitely agrees with me. Likewise the blooming of my marriage into true family life. As I've said elsewhere, it's like someone turned the lights on. One highlight of my Kentucky trip was requests to see photos of little Rafa. Melted my heart every time. Plus meeting other parents of small kids. And watching 13-month old Sophie climbing stairs, looking back at her mom and me, to make sure we saw her doing it. Though her mom says coming down isn't quite as easy! And, very important -- if he''s reading this, would the man … [Read more...]

Good time in Kentucky

University of Kentucky

What a good time I had in Kentucky! Yes, I hated to leave my new baby, but before he blessed my life I'd been invited to the University of Kentucky, and because the baby's not-schedulable arrival meant I kept hassling the date of my visit, I couldn't see canceling. Besides, life goes on. So there I was, Friday and Saturday at the University of Kentucky, giving a talk on the Rey M. Longyear Lecture Series, about the future of classical music. And visiting for quite a while with students from a seminar on music criticism taught by Lance … [Read more...]

Classical music diversity — or the lack of it

Michael Morgan and the young Oakland black audience

In my last post, I got up on a soapbox and orated, about classical music -- in practice pretty much a lily-white art -- claiming special privileges (lavish funding, school programs devoted to it) in an age of growing diversity. That seemed ugly to me, and, in the long run, not sustainable. But there's a simpler, less polemical way to look at this. Yesterday, perusing the business section of the New York Times (and in the print paper yet; how old-fashioned of me!), I came across a column that started this way: "Advertisers are increasingly … [Read more...]

Cultural problems with outreach

Why can't we have a new, diverse audience?

At the end of my last post, I asked why we're not finding ways to reach the audience of people just like us, who don’t happen to listen to classical music. And why, instead, we put so much effort into education and outreach (often to people not like us). My answer was that we don't believe we can do it. Or at least we're acting that way. We're acting as if we don't think there's an audience we could reach in direct and passionate ways. Which, in my view, condemns classical music to death, for reasons you can read in that previous … [Read more...]