Measuring success

measuring blog

I was talking not long ago with a lovely classical musician, someone well-known, who told heartwarming stories of reaching new people with his playing. He’d be with a small group of people, and his music would touch them, making new friends for our art. Which is hardly a surprise, given how this man plays. And also not because in nearly any context, one on one encounters, or sessions with small groups, be an effective way to make friends and converts. I’m sure we’ve all heard many cases of this in classical music. Like the tour bus driver a … [Read more...]

The bad guys won

Alaska blog_1

Well, the title is a joke. What the bad guys won — they were sharp, smart students from Oxford Univeristy — was a debate on the future of classical music, which I heard last weekend in Anchorage, Alaska. The debaters from the Oxford Union (a venerable debating group) were Matt Handley and Carin Hunt, and they were bad guys because they took what at first seemed to the audience like an anti-classical music stand: This House believes classical music deserves no support beyond that which the market will provide. Boo! Hanging classical music … [Read more...]


mantra 5 blog

Here’s something Stockhausen said about his 1970 piece Mantra, for two pianos and electronics: To say it as simply as possible, Mantra, as it stands, is a miniature of the way a galaxy is composed. When I was composing the work, I had no accessory feelings or thoughts; I knew only that I had to fulfill the mantra. And it demanded itself, it just started blossoming. As it was being constructed through me, I somehow felt that it must be a very true picture of the way the cosmos is constructed, I’ve never worked on a piece before in which 1 was … [Read more...]

Too Mellifluous

exile blog

Of course I got comments on my post about orchestras playing and playing the standard masterworks. I said this hobbled them as artistic institutions, and paralyzed them in other ways, restricting their imagination even in things as mundane as press releases. If you limit your thinking in the central thing you do, the work that takes up most of your time and energy, of course that has consequences. But of course not everyone agreed. Which isn’t a surprise. My thought isn’t exactly orthodox, and of course many people love hearing the standard … [Read more...]

A quiet warning

joyful blog

New ways to write orchestra press releases — that was what I offered in my last post. But when I first began this series of posts, by saying that orchestra press releases aren’t very good, Sarah Robinson, on Facebook, suggested that the deeper problem was orchestra programming. And I agree. Orchestras spend most of their time playing the same pieces — even if it’s not the shortest list — over and over. I can suggest what might be appealing, involving ways to describe these pieces (and how they’re performed) in publicity releases, but … [Read more...]

Writing good press releases

mahler four blog

I said in my last post that — having shaken my head at really poor press releases from orchestras — I’d provide some examples of good ones. That’ll come, but for now I’ll just suggest an approach to writing a release, an approach that ought to produce something better than what we usually see. What I’d suggest, simply enough, is to do more than recite facts, and instead to tell stories. And that the stories shouldn’t mainly be about the pieces you’re going to play, but about the people playing them. That last point, I fear, is a little … [Read more...]

Important reminder

diversity blog

I’m gratified by some early support for yesterday’s post, about feeble orchestra press releases. And Marna Seltzer, on Facebook, agreeing with what I said, hoped I’d give some examples of good press releases. Good thought, Marna. I’ll do that. And now a thought for today. About our hoped-for new audience, the one we want, younger people, millennials and above. We need to know who they are, what they want, what matters to them. A Washington Post article provides a reminder. Its subject may seem far afield: It’s about why big corporations … [Read more...]

We can do better

mminnesota blah blog

I don’t mean to pick on the Minnesota Orchestra. Or on anyone. But this is the time of year when symphony orchestras announce next year’s season, and their press releases…are weak. The most basic fact about classical music today is that we need new listeners. But I can’t see these press releases doing much to find those. Which to me is a serious problem. Can’t we learn to talk about classical music, in a way that might make compelling, so we can people — especially people outside our world — reasons to go to our performances? And I don’t … [Read more...]

Exhilarating experience

exhilarating blog

A piano student speaks to her audience, for the first time, and is absolutely thrilled. I’m going to do something that may seem like blowing my horn, reprinting praise for myself from a reader. And from a reader who, with other students in a course she was taking, was assigned to read me. Which is kind of double praise — first my writing is assigned to a class, and then one of the students writes me in gratitude. Of course, being human, I like to know that my work means so much to someone. But in this case, my delight goes further. You’ll … [Read more...]

Last joy

lavventura use blog

I’m glad my joy posts seem to resonate with many people. This is the last of them. (See the end for links to the others.) I’m doing this last one because in the one before, I went out on a limb, and said I loved a Rolling Stones song more than any Brahms symphony. Gasp! Making the point that — as a mark of the value we put on any music — shouldn’t be censored in any way. But now I want to correct any thought that entertainment makes me happier than art. Which isn’t a distinction I’d make, between art and entertainment, but others make it, … [Read more...]

Crazy joy

joy blog

Here’s another followup to my post on musical joy. Inspired by a speaker at the College Music Society northeast regional conference, I’d realized that we don’t talk enough about joy in music. True joy, the kind you can’t mistake for anything else when you feel it. (I’m sure we don’t make room enough for joy in most of what we do, but I’ll stick to music here.) So I realized that many of us might not make room enough for joy when, God help us, we judge some music that we’ve heard. Judgment is such a tricky thing, so limited. The Rolling … [Read more...]

More joy

joy 2 blog

A quick followup from yesterday’s post, about joy in music. I talked about Ronald Sherwin, from U Mass, who’d spoken at the northeast regional conference of the College Music Society, about pure joy in music. That inspired me to imagine Juilliard, where I teach — or other music schools — starting each academic year with a celebration of musical joy. A radical change! Then today, just turning this over in my mind, I had a further thought. Why limit joy to schools? When I was artist in residence a few years ago at the University of … [Read more...]

Lead with your love

loving musi blog

This past weekend I gave a keynote talk at the Northeast regional conference of the College Music Society. The people in CMS are academics, people who teach music at colleges and universities. And conservatories, too. And their subject, at this conference, was sustainability. Can these music departments survive, if what they teach is — as of course is the case — largely classical music? I called my talk “The Road to Survival,” and you can hear it here. I recorded it on my iPhone. Reasonable quality. But I don’t want to say much about … [Read more...]

Composers in a bubble

scout blog

There are many kinds of music in the world, outside of classical music. Of course there’s jazz. And Broadway show tunes, and world music, and pop music in all its endless variety. Plus film and TV scores, and music for videogames. But there’s also music created for specialized use: Background scores for TV commercials. Music, sometimes quite elaborate, created for events like the Olympics or the Super Bowl. Musical logos for TV news shows. The little chord you hear when you start your Mac (or the “Windows sound” I remember from … [Read more...]

Saying more than I did in the Washington Post

always try blog

Just a word about why my wife Anne Midgette and I ended up with side by side reviews in the Washington Post this morning, even though I’m not a writer there. (She, of course, is the Post’s chief classical music critic.) This isn’t the start of anything regular for me. I just filled in to solve a problem. Because of disruptive snow last week in Washington, the National Symphony’s schedule changed, and neither Anne nor any of her regular freelancers was available to review a reschedued concert. I offered to step in, if the Post approved. And … [Read more...]