Triple whammy

storm 2 blog

I'm sure this is something we all know about — the management/musician disputes that have hit one orchestra after another,  leading to seasons not starting on time, with no clear sense, in some cases, of when they ever might start. Tony Woodcock (president of New England Conservatory, and former CEO of the Minnesota Orchestra) in a blog post mentions Atlanta, Minnesota, Chicago, Indianapolis, the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra (where all concerts to the end of 2012 have been cancelled), and Jacksonville. To which we can add Spokane, where a … [Read more...]

More history

music history blog

Here — from a 1975 book by George Seltzer, The Professional Symphony Orchestra in the United States — is another bit of history. (To go along with the 1951 scene of audiences applauding after each movement of a piece, that I shared in my last post.) Seltzer's book is a collection of many articles, some short, some quite long, including a New Yorker piece from 1960 (if I remember correctly; I don't have the book with me) by Joseph Wechsler that gives the best account of what it's like to play an orchestra piece -— from the musicians' point of … [Read more...]

The power of history

applause blog

The hurricane is on my mind -- the devastation in NY and NJ, which (though this is a minor part of it) hits me, even while I'm safe in Washington. I go to NY weekly, and my normal transportation (for a three-pronged trip, between DC, NY, and my home in Warwick, NY) just isn't available. I'll cope, while my heart goes out to people whose problems are much worse. And meanwhile… One problem we have, when we try to imagine the future of classical music, is that we don't know enough about its past. Take something that ought to be simple -- the … [Read more...]

Still room in my online writing course

talk music blog

I'm ready to teach an online course in how to talk and write about music. As I blogged here earlier! The course will be based on the one I'm teaching this fall at Juilliard. Adapted as needed to what the people who work with me want to learn. Among those who've signed up so far, we have one strongly interested in criticism, and one in blogging. But I'm also prepared to work on bios, press releases, and program notes. And on how to describe music in speech! One thing we'll do is listen to music, and immediately describe how it sounds. I've … [Read more...]


literacy blog

Here's a question I was asked: Will technology raise the level of musical literacy? This came up in a panel discussion, during my visit last week to the University of Missouri. And as I considered the answer, something occurred to me. There's more than one kind of musical literacy. So this is what I said. In classical music, we of course think musical literacy means being able to read music. And, maybe also it means knowing about classical music — the composers, their works, the instruments, important periods in classical music … [Read more...]

A trip, and the new media trap

new media blog

I'll be at the University of Missouri this week, on Thursday and Friday, for a festival called Music and New Media at the Crossroads. Among other things, i'll be speaking on a public panel Thursday at 3 PM, about new media and the future of classical music, along with Matt Haimovitz, Tod Machover, my old friend Tim Page, and members of eighth blackbird, who, along with Matt, would count as newer friends. I'm looking forward to seeing all these people, along with the moderator, Robert Shay, dean of the U of Missouri school of music. Whom I know … [Read more...]

Writing tips

tannhauser blog

Juilliard students these days don't seem to be interested in music criticism, or in music critics. I think that's partly because, if they're like most others their age, they may not read newspapers. And thus don't often read critics. But it's also because they don't think critics do a good job. This continues my previous post, about the course on how to talk and write about music that I'm teaching at Juilliard this fall. And about the online version of it I'm eager to teach, as soon as I get five or six people to enroll in it. I'm happy to … [Read more...]

How to talk and write about music

blue ear blog

That's what my Juilliard course this semester is about. And it's what the course should be called, though this year we adopted a title that's a hybrid of what the course used to be and what it is now: "Music Criticism: How to Talk About Music." Because for many years this was a course about music criticism. But then two things happened. First, fewer and fewer students seemed interested in criticism. I might guess that's because they — like so many people under 40 — don't read newspapers, and thus don't encounter music reviews. But as my … [Read more...]

Four keys — be yourself

be yourself blog

Don't believe anyone who tells you not to be your own artistic self. That follows from the third of my four keys to the future, "Be yourself." I explained this in terms of pandering: Your urgency, your joy, and your passion will draw people to you. But you can't be joyful if you don't love the music that you perform. So never pander. Never struggle to be relevant. Perform music that makes your heart sing. Trust your new audience. Trust it to be smart, to be curious, and to respond with joy when it sees how joyful you are. And that's true. … [Read more...]

Actively finding an audience

megaphone blog

Here I'll expand just a little on the second of my four keys to the future (which I offered in an earlier post): "Work actively to find your [new] audience." What this means, specifically, is that it's not enough to do what was done in the 20th century, to advertise your concerts, or put up flyers and posters. Or even to jump into our new century, and send out email or put videos on YouTube. Or start a blog, make a website, or create a Facebook page. The new audience we want to find isn't a classical music audience. The people in it … [Read more...]

The culture gap (2)

no nonsense blog

Too many people in classical music talk like this. I'm thinking of Daniel Barenboim, quoted about his latest recording of Beethoven's symphonies, a project he and his people call "Beethoven for All": Many people feel or think, without really knowing, that music is somehow elitist – that it is for people who can afford the money and the time; it’s something that has only to do with leisure. But music is not elitist. On the contrary. Music is not only not elitist, music is universal. Even though all the great composers of the past are … [Read more...]

About my four keys — the culture gap

dylan blog

Here's the start of Jon Pareles's review of Bob Dylan's terrific new album, from the New York Times: Bob Dylan’s voice isn’t getting any prettier. At 71, on his 35th studio album, “Tempest” — and a full 50 years after he released his debut album in 1962 — Mr. Dylan sings in a wheezy rasp that proudly scrapes up against its own flaws. That voice can be almost avuncular, the wry cackle of a codger who still has an eye for the ladies. But it can also be calmly implacable or utterly bleak, and it’s completely believable when Mr. Dylan sings, in … [Read more...]

Helping you

helping-hand blog

I'm happy — thrilled — with how much people like my four keys to the future. Aka the four things we in classical music must do, if we want to build a new audience, and help classical music survive. And of course (as commenters have eagerly noted) there's lots more to say about how we do these four things. I'll be saying much of it in weeks to come. The first two points, especially, can be expanded. The first one — understand and respect the culture outside classical music. — is harder than it seems. One problem for the classical music … [Read more...]

What we have to do

lonely violinst blog

Now it's time to return to the main business of this blog, which of course is the future of classical music. And also to return to something I stressed before my vacation, which is that the main business — the highest priority, the central focus — of people in our field should be to find a new audience. This ought to be a no-brainer. As things are now, the old audience isn't being replaced, or at least not in anywhere near large enough numbers to sustain classical music institutions at the size they are now. Or to give smaller groups and … [Read more...]

100 Cage

cage variations iv blog

Years ago, a dear friend, a violist, gave two solo recitals, with the same program. One of the pieces was John Cage's Variations IV, in which the score is nothing but a sheet of plastic with some black dots on it. You're asked to draw a map of your performing space, overlay the plastic on it, and everywhere a dot falls, do something. [As we'll see, I didn't remember this correctly! I'm largely right, but got some details wrong.] Which makes this one of those Cage pieces -- the famous silent piece is the best known -- that many people still … [Read more...]