We’re all pretty proud of what Nathan Voges does on the podium, but now he’s taking it to a whole new level. Continue Reading World Premiere for IWS Assistant Conductor Nathan Voges…
Tags: concert, review
Jay Harvey review the IWS’s season finale, “Trumpetissimo!” at his blog. Check it out here.
While you’re there, take in his post marking the centennial of the premiere of Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring.
Tags: performance practice
Please note: The opinions presented here are those of the author only.
In 2005, the MENC launched The National Anthem Project. Their website has this to say about it:
In response to a 2004 Harris Interactive survey that showed two out of three Americans didn’t know the words to our national anthem, MENC: The National Association for Music Education created the “National Anthem Project: Restoring America’s Voice” campaign in March 2005 to re-teach the anthem while raising awareness of the importance of school music.
I wish I could say that I was surprised by the statistic that two-thirds of Americans don’t know the words. (We’ve all heard some of the anthem-performance-flop controversies of the recent past.) But forgetting the words is only part of the problem.
Here are four of the most common performance problems with the national anthem and how I think they should be “fixed”: Continue Reading On Performing The Star-Spangled Banner…
How Music is like Football, and Why It Shouldn’t Be
If there’s one thing I’ve learned from popular culture, it’s that music is all about the competition.
It started with Star Search, but that show was way ahead of its time. Not until the 21st century did we really get to the meat of musical competition: American Idol kicked it off, spawning The Sing-Off, Grease — You’re the One That I Want!, The Voice, The X Factor, and now the upcoming Duets, Star Next Door, and VH1’s in-development 60-Minute Superstar. And I’m pretty sure I missed a couple.
And that’s the way it’s supposed to be, right? Unknowns battling note-for-note for their musical lives for the entertainment of the masses? After all, that’s how they did it in ancient Roman times, only now, instead of raging gladiators we get hopeful teenagers, and instead of Caesar giving a thumbs-up or thumbs-down we get Steven Tyler’s signature scream.
That’s what music is all about, right?
Unfortunately, this is the message that seems to be reaching young people from the beginning of their musical development. But I don’t blame the music competition shows — that’s a natural capitalistic outgrowth of what has already been established. No, I believe the biggest culprit in the shift from music as cultural and artistic expression to music as competition is the rise of the marching band.
One conductor tells this story of practicing James Barnes’ arrangement of selections from Porgy & Bess with the high school all-state band:
As they were talking through the piece in an early rehearsal, the conductor pointed out that, when they got to the “Summertime” section, they weren’t going to hear the slow, sultry “Summertime” that they were used to hearing, but an upbeat, triple-meter rendition. He was met with blank stares.
“You all know the tune from ‘Summertime,’ right?” he asked.
More blank stares.
So the conductor went to the keyboard and tapped out the melody. No reaction.
He returned to the podium and asked, “How many of you know what Porgy & Bess is?” No hands went up.
He was frightened to ask the next question, but he had to know the answer: “How many of you know who George Gershwin is?”
One hand went up. It was the pianist, and the only Gershwin tune she could name was Rhapsody in Blue.
Bear in mind that these weren’t a bunch of sixth graders just learning to make noise on their instruments. This was an all-state band, a collection of mostly high school juniors and seniors who were supposedly the cream of the crop.
And they didn’t know who George Gershwin was.
How does this happen? What are these students being taught?
I believe that students have been taught a skewed vision of what music is, what its purpose is, and why it’s important.
Most of the people who read this blog are in some way involved in music themselves, so really consider this question before you continue reading: Why did you want to get into music in the first place?
There will be many varied answers, from the mundane (my best friends were in the band) to the over-the-top and probably revisionist (I wanted to create something beautiful). But I bet not one of you wanted to pursue music because you enjoyed competition.
But what awaits student musicians today? Not long after they get the basics under their fingers, they start preparing for contest. And by prepare, I mean spending every rehearsal (five days a week) working up a single concert that they can take to contest in the hopes of outscoring the other schools, who have all been doing the same thing. The purpose of rehearsing and of making music then becomes to get a high score. Forget talking about the history. Forget explaining the nuance. Forget the culture, and the art, and the teamwork. Forget actually learning about music.Focus on the goal: winning.
It gets worse in high school. Marching band tears down all pretense of art for art’s sake and becomes the musical analogue to football: Practices start in the summer (if not at the end of the preceding school year). Once school begins, after-school practices start going, and the players have to memorize their formations and learn to adjust what they’re doing based on those around them. And then the competitions start. The teams take the field, they do their best, and they get scored. There are trophies. The winning teams celebrate their success, and the rest moan about every little mistake that cost them precious points.
But here’s the thing: This isn’t what music is supposed to be about. This isn’t why Beethoven composed his Third Symphony, or why John Adams wrote The Death of Klinghoffer, or why the musicians kept playing even as the Titanic went down.
I’ll leave the whole conversation about what music is and why it’s important to your own thoughts (and maybe to a later post). What I want to focus on is the real effect that this focus on competition is having on the world of music.
Concert bands and orchestras around the country are having a horrible time. Audiences are staying away in droves, leaving as many empty seats as filled ones. Attempts to get younger audiences — the future of music in the United States — into the auditoriums are failing. As ticket sales fall, groups large and small are having a hard time making financial ends meet and are looking at dangerous ways to save money and cut corners.
Sure, some of the drop-off can be attributed to the economy. People don’t have as much money to spend on tickets. But that isn’t the only problem.
Take us, for example. In the Indiana Wind Symphony, we routinely send letters announcing our concerts to a few dozen band directors in the area. Those announcements are somehow not reaching the students. We’ve even offered masterclasses and blocks of free student tickets, hoping to get a busload of music-loving kids to a concert, but we’ve gotten unbelievably few responses. We’ve even programmed pieces that we knew local schools were working on for their upcoming contests. Nothing.
Band and orchestra teachers, and therefore their students, don’t seem to care about what happens with their musical instruction after high school. They don’t care that there are groups like us, and like the many adult concert bands and chamber groups in central Indiana, just waiting to give them a place to continue their musical journey after high school. Not to compete, but to challenge themselves, to make friends, to enjoy themselves, and to be a part of the musical continuum that stretches back through the centuries.
Instead, students compete. And then they go home and watch other competitions. They listen for the mistakes, the “pitchiness,” the nerves sneaking through that make one singer not as good as another. Then they phone in to vote for their favorite one. And that’s what music is.
I don’t intend this as a wholesale condemnation of high school band and orchestra directors. Of course there are some music teachers doing outstanding jobs of giving students well-rounded musical educations. But it’s unfortunate that they stand out for doing what all music teachers should be doing.
Listening to the radio on the way home from work today, I heard the DJ refer to Jimmy Page as a “guitar god.” I like Jimmy Page, but I don’t know that deifying him is necessarily called for. But that statement got me thinking about the great guitarists.
A half dozen names popped into my head immediately, followed quickly by a dozen more. But I noticed something: I couldn’t come up with a single female guitar great. In the pantheon of guitar gods, who are the guitar goddesses?
I considered that the shortcoming might be my own, so I decided to look online at other people’s lists of the best guitarists, hoping to find the women that I somehow forgot. I typed “best guitarists” into Google and then clicked the first four links (see below) that seemed pertinent. What I found was sad, but also expected, unfortunately.
Jimi Hendrix topped each list as the best guitarist of all time. Though their rankings varied, the next top nineteen guitarists were pretty consistent among all the lists: Eric Clapton, Jimmy Page, Duane Allman, and Eddie Van Halen were on all, with appearances by Pete Townshend, Jeff Beck, David Gilmour, Les Paul, Chuck Berry, and others.
Guitar World recently posted its “30 on 30,” in which thirty great guitarists were asked to name their guitar heroes. (They must have been asked not to choose someone already mentioned because no two guitarists chose the same hero.) Of those thirty guitar heroes, not a single one was a woman.
But that’s not half as concerning as DigitalDreamDoor.com’s list of the top 250 rock guitarists. (The list is actually longer, but they stop ranking them after 250.) Of 250 rock guitarists, how many do you think are women?
If you guessed twelve, you’re off by a dozen. Not a single woman appeared in that list of 250 guitarists.
The guitar world isn’t completely exclusive. LA Times Magazine‘s “guitar experts” chose their top fifty guitarists and then asked their readers to rank them. This list cast a wider musical net, including classical and Spanish guitarists. The top favorites are pretty predictable. Not until almost the end of the list do we see a glimmer of femininity: Sitting at number 48 is Sharon Isbin, a classical guitarist and founder of the Juilliard School’s Guitar Department. She’s certainly an accomplished musician, but not a household name.
You can’t discuss guitarists without looking to Rolling Stone magazine. It offers its own sleek-looking list of the 100 greatest guitarists of all time, with Hendrix, Clapton, Page, and Richards at the top. Farther down, past photo after photo of long-haired, axe-wielding men, you’ll find Joni Mitchell sitting at number 75, sandwiched between Dick Dale and Robby Krieger. A hop, skip, and jump away, nestled between Carl Perkins and Tom Verlaine, sits that blues beauty Bonnie Raitt.
So what’s going on here? Is it true that, as Rolling Stone‘s list implies, only 2% of professional guitarists are women? Is the business of pop music inherently sexist? Are girls just not interested in learning how to play guitar? Or is that possibility not being communicated to girls during their formative years? Are they just lacking role models?
I don’t know the answers. What I know, though, is that this disparity just feels wrong. But instead of focusing on why things are the way they are, it’s better to focus on how we can change things.
As a novice guitar player and father of two boys, I don’t have a lot of sway with young women looking to branch out musically. Luckily, it isn’t just up to me. If you’re a guitarist, or if you have a daughter, and especially if you’re a guitarist who has a daughter, make sure she knows that the six-string avenue is open to her, that she isn’t limited to flute, violin, and piano. And when you find an outstanding female guitarist like Bonnie Raitt, share her music with your sons and daughters alike.
And if you’re an outstanding woman who is also an outstanding guitarist, consider following the example of Sharon Isbin — making great music, being a great role model, and passing your knowledge to tomorrow’s great female musicians.
There must be some women out there playing great guitar. Who are they, and what are their greatest performances?
Posted by Andy Hollandbeck
Tags: cello, star wars
Like most people, I often wonder what the music scene might like in the world of Star Wars. Certainly we know about the little jazz combos that Jabba the Hutt prefers, but what about what we here on Earth would call “classical music”?
Finally, someone has answered this eternal question, giving us a glimpse into the rivalries of deep space cellists. Steven Sharp Nelson and ThePianoGuys show us what might happen when a cellist from the Sith Symphony Orchestra challenges a cellist from the Jedi Philharmonic.
It’s just too awesome not to share.
On the night of October 30, the Indiana Wind Symphony put on its annual Halloween concert, with band member and many audience members in costume. This year, the theme was “Hollywood & Halloween Treats.”
This is always one of my favorite concerts — part pops , part serious music, all fun. On the pops end was music from Toy Story 2, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Wicked, and Star Wars. On the more serious side was Donald Gillis’s January February March, Offenbach’s Orpheus in the Underworld Overture (transcribed by Clark McAlister), Eric Whitacre’s Ghost Train, and a new piece from Butler University’s Composer-in-Residence Michael Schelle called The End of the World.
Most of those pieces have been played over and over by bands around the world; not so with Schelle’s The End of the World. The idea of this piece was inspired by the apocalyptic writings of Nostradamus and the whole end-of-the-Mayan-calendar thing due in December 2012. But the main inspiration came from something more unexpected: the tsunami that devastated Japan in March of this year.
The piece comprises three movements: The Exhausted Sun, Bullet Train from Hell, and After Afterlife. As you might imagine, the piece is tense and intense. Walls of sound like unstoppable waves crash over the audience. Unexpected eddies swirl and twist like rushing water, like solar flares, like time. It’s so intense that, if you think too much about what it represents, it might be too much to listen to.
But then, in the third movement, the dissonances slowly resolve to something calmer and more stable. The waves recede, and the sun pokes through. All around, the evidence of cataclysm and death is still apparent, but so is the sunlight, and hope. The piece ends with the singing of angels.
The End of the World is one of those pieces that you have to hear live, and if you get the opportunity, you should.
Krzysztof Urbanski made his debut as the new director of the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra last weekend with performances of Shostakovich’s Fifth Symphony, Tchaikovsky’s First Piano Concerto (with Garrick Ohlsson), and Glinka’s Overture to Ruslan and Ludmilla.
No one was really quite sure what to expect from this young and relatively unknown conductor. A few IWS members were on hand for the performances and came away with a sense that Urbanski was a good choice for the ISO.
IWS director Charles Conrad attended the Friday performance, and he wrote,
Fantastic concert tonight by the Indianapolis Symphony — Shostakovich #5 that was amazing. I am very impressed with new Music Director Krzysztof Urbanski. Dynamic range, especially in the strings, was more than I have ever heard before from the ISO.
Clarinetist Katherine Peters, who was on hand for the Saturday performance, wrote,
I wasn’t sure about Urbanski just because of all the hype and I’d never seen him before, so we bought tickets in the stage terrace so we had the orchestra’s view and could watch his conducting, which was great. It wasn’t necessarily the gestures and facials, although they were expressive, but it was the communicative nature of his conducting all the way through. Some conductors are flamboyant and flashy without actually being connected to the musicians in front of them, and it takes humility to communicate to everyone else on stage rather than drawing attention to oneself. There was a partnership taking place, they were presenting art together, and he, as the point man, was very clear on his intentions. I’ve not heard the ISO (which is not at all shabby, mind you!) play with that amount of vigor and inflection. The Glinka was fun and full of detail. And after intermission, Shostakovich… I literally said “wow” out loud after the last movement. It was brilliant. I appreciate that he was bold enough to make some of the very clear decisions that he did and competent enough to make them work so very well. And then, he was very gracious in his recognition of the musicians and his reluctant acceptance of applause, and it seemed sincere. I saw orchestra members welcome him onto the stage with fond smiles (not forced smiles) at the beginning and call him back for a bow at the end. Last reason for liking him: he walked past our usher in the connecting hallway at intermission, stopped, and shook his hand and introduced himself. No one else was around; the usher was so impressed that he told us about it. That’s class.
One problem with the concerts: Empty seats. A big, premiere concert like this ought to have been sold out each night, but there were still plenty of seats available when the baton dropped. This doesn’t bode well for the future of classical music in Indianapolis.
To learn more about Krzysztof Urbanski, check out krzysztofurbanski.com.
The Indiana Wind Symphony announces auditions for several open positions and for consideration on the substitute list of musicians.
The IWS is Indiana’s premiere adult concert band and is a resident ensemble of the Palladium at the Carmel Center for the Performing Arts. There are immediate openings for piccolo, oboe, bassoon, baritone saxophone, French horn, trumpet, trombone, string bass and percussion (mallet proficiency necessary), however all instruments are encouraged to audition.
The auditions will be held on Thursday, August 4 from 6-9 PM and on Saturday, August 6 from 10 AM until 2 PM at Asera Care/Golden Living (8460 Bearing Dr. Suite 300), which is near 86th and Georgetown. Please email IWS Personnel Manager Julie Burckel (creola0615 (at) sbcglobal.net) to schedule an audition or to ask questions about the IWS.
Please prepare 5 minutes of music that shows your playing at its best. Sight-reading will be part of the audition. High school musicians are welcomed to audition for substitute spots, but only players 18 and older will be considered for full positions.