As I've tweeted, and posted on Facebook -- here's a sound I just love. Is it an animal, singing? Is it music from some other culture? No, it's an escalator at the Archives stop on the Washington DC Metro. Somehow it sings, and (to my ear) very wistfully, too. On Facebook, my friend Lucy Miller (hi, Lucy, and thanks) found someone this sound like. Roswell Rudd, a jazz trombonist. Here, on YouTube. Uncanny connection.And for more diversion, from the excellent "Click Track" pop music blog at the Washington Post, you can listen -- in … [Read more...]

The culture I’ve seen

Orchestra culture, I mean. A few years ago, I was visiting a friend, who also had another visitor -- the concertmaster of a Group 1 orchestra (referring to the League of American Orchestras classification of orchestras by budget size, in which the 20-odd largest are in Group 1). We were hanging out, talking in a relaxed, friendly way. And at one point, the concertmaster asked me, "What's the happiest day in a string player's life?" The answer: "The day they get tenure in an orchestra, and never have to practice again." Which was … [Read more...]

More unsatisfied

I know that what I'm writing here is difficult. I may seem to be attacking orchestra musicians. Which I'm not, not at all. I have the greatest respect for them. But that doesn't mean we shouldn't look at some difficulties they might have...which I'm hardly the first to mention.So, continuing from my last post...I'd mentioned studies and other writing, published in Harmony magazine in 1996, about how satisfied (or not) orchestra musicians were with their work. And I wrote about one of them, a study by Harvard psychologist Richard Hackman and … [Read more...]

Not so satisfied

Resuming my posts on how well orchestras play...My points today:orchestral musicians are deeply committed to their work, but not satisfied with itthey have trouble resolving this contradictionand since their main complaints are about the quality of the conductors they have to play for, they couldn't possibly believe -- in their hearts -- that their orchestras play as well as they ought toBut first, a look back:What I'm starting to get at here is the inner culture of orchestras. I began to touch on that in my "Four personalities" post, in which … [Read more...]

Sports and uplift (more)

A note to people who think I might have written too much here about sports. Once you've gotten what I'm trying to say, sportswise, feel free to scroll down to the subhead that shows I'm moving on to classical music. I won't be offended. Thinking some more about about the comments I've gotten trashing my idea that sports and classical music could be compared in any useful way. Plus my responses, both in the comments, and in my "Underestimating" post. One theme in the comments has been that classical music is about uplift and … [Read more...]

No direction home

This may come as a shock, but -- continuing my posts on the artistic quality of orchestras -- the larger American orchestras normally have no one who functions as their artistic director. You may think this is nonsense, when you read it. What's the music director? you might ask. Chopped onions? But in fact -- as insiders know -- many music directors, maybe most, don't take responsibility for the concerts that they don't conduct. In some cases, they may not even take much interest. There may be reasons for this. A top-class music … [Read more...]


About orchestra culture...I got a comment on one of my posts from Henry Peyrebrune, a bassist in the Cleveland Orchestra, whom I know from the Mellon Foundation's Orchestra Forum. I want to thank him for the comment, which was this:Greg - we talk about performance all the time - it's called rehearsal. While it's primarily led by the conductor, there are always side discussions within sections and sections taking time during rehearsal breaks or after rehearsal to go over passages. And - individual players can focus on their own performance … [Read more...]

While we’re talking about orchestras…

Two big developments. The Toronto Symphony seems to be finding a young audience. Or that's what a Los Angeles Times story the link takes you to says. Thirty-five percent of the orchestra's audience, we're told, is younger than 35. Which compares to data from past generations, when the classical music audience was no older than the rest of the population. In 1955, for instance, more than half the Minneapolis Symphony audience was under 35. (That orchestra, of course, is now the Minnesota Orchestra.) If the Toronto story really is true, … [Read more...]


Often people say that classical music -- instrumental music -- is abstract, and therefore not easy to understand. Thus, as one commenter said a few days ago, it can't be compared to baseball and movies, which aren't abstract, and therefore are things that people can readily understand. To understand classical music, by contrast, takes education. And preparation.But I don't think this is true. Here's a response I wrote to that comment, edited slightly to make it more understandable as an independent blog post:I think that in past generations … [Read more...]