Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Joe Queenan's A-Z of classical music

These fabulous articles written by Joe Queenan for the Guardian were recommended by my Dad. Enjoy. You'll be glad you did. I have put two of them below. The rest can be accessed by clicking here.

A is for... Amadeus (Mozart)
Most of what the public knows about Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart it knows from watching Milos Forman's bouncy, irreverent, factually absurd 1984 biopic. This is the Academy Award winner that briefly made Tom Hulce and F. Murray Abraham famous, before the public came to its senses. Forman, reworking Peter Shaffer's ingenious play, depicts Mozart as God's cruelest joke: a vulgar simpleton obsessed with bodily functions who has inexplicably been blessed with the ability to write a catchy tune.

The truth is more nuanced. Mozart was absolutely brilliant, the most talented artist in human history, doing more things well in a shorter lifetime than Da Vinci, Shakespeare, Picasso, Bono. He was a fabulous pianist, an amazing conductor, a superb violinist. He wrote the most sophisticated operas the world has ever known - cerebral compositions in an art form dominated by sappy cornballs - at least a dozen gorgeous symphonies (his early work does not count; he wrote his first symphony at age seven), truckloads of concertos for piano and violin, and haunting chamber music that will be performed up to and including Armageddon.

His Requiem, unfinished, surpasses any Requiem that is. There is no one alive today who is even vaguely in the same weight class as Mozart, nor has there been since Wagner died. And Wagner was only vaguely in the same weight class.

Arguably bringing more sheer beauty into the world than anyone who ever lived, Mozart was rewarded by the fates with a preposterously unhappy life. His childhood was sabotaged by his musician father, who pimped him out as a juvenile circus act; his aristocratic employers showered their wealth and praise on butchers and charlatans; he married badly; he was constantly in debt; he had bum kidneys. He was short, his hands were stubby, and, oh yes, his face was marred by smallpox. He died at age 35, and no one knows where he is buried. Anyone who believes that life is fair should try being born in Afghanistan or study the life of Mozart or just go straight to hell.

B is for... (Ludwig van) Beethoven
Every musician who thinks he is god's gift to the world can thank Ludwig van Beethoven - who actually was God's gift to the world. Before Beethoven, the rich and the stupid, who were usually one and the same, decided what got written and when it got performed - usually at the king's brunch; after Beethoven, musicians stopped being flunkies and got to call the tune. Beethoven was the first composer to write first and ask questions later; the whole notion of the tormented artist shaking his fist at a cruel and very possibly idiotic universe originates with him. Rock stars, with their pre-fab, off-the-rack personas, may not owe all that much to Beethoven's art. But they owe everything to his attitude.

Like Mozart, Beethoven wrote an enormous number of pieces that no one has come close to equalling. Schubert, Brahms, Schumann, Mahler, Tchaikovsky, Berlioz, Shostakovich and Strauss all wrote majestic symphonies, but none of them equal the power and drama of Beethoven's Third, Fifth, Seventh or Ninth. Beethoven's sonatas are still the gold standard by which all pianists are measured; and his string quartets, written almost 200 years ago, still sound harsh and demanding, even to modern ears. Unlike most of his predecessors, whose music was sweet but harmless; Beethoven's music is generally dark and daring; unlike many of his descendants, whose music is intellectually challenging but unlistenable, Beethoven's music is haunting, sublime. As for minimalists like Philip Glass and John Adams, were Beethoven alive today, he would smack them.

Like Mozart, Beethoven was rewarded for his innumerable gifts to mankind by enduring a thoroughly miserable existence. Unlike the self-monauralizing Van Gogh, who could always fall back on that spare ear, Beethoven lost his hearing while he was still young, resulting in some rather wild conducting performances after he went deaf. Coarse, maladroit, hard to get along with, unsuccessful in love, Beethoven was still evolving as a composer when he died in his fifty-seventh year. None of us will ever live to see a 57-year-old composer who is not washed up. And yes, that includes Dylan.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Legal Structures for Businesses

There are four different legal structures businesses can take. They are sole proprietorship, partnership, corporation and Limited Liability Company. Most new businesses start out as sole proprietorships like QUADRE did in 1998. Each of these types have benefits and disadvantages. However, they can best be broken down in terms of ownership and liability.

In the eyes of the law, an individual and their sole proprietorship are one and the same. The individual has total ownership and total liability. Should they or their business go into debt or be sued, they could lose everything. In contrast, a partnership divides the ownership between 2 or more people. Again, business debts and lawsuits brought against the business become the obligation of the partners. A Limited Liability Company is similar to the partnership but has the limited liability of a corporation. Finally, a corporation is a legal entity unto itself meaning that the business is legally separate from its owners.

In QUADRE's case-as a not-for-profit 501(c)3 corporation-our owners are the general public. Our board of directors serves the interests of the general public by making sure the corporation is financially responsible and by hiring/replacing the executive director when necessary. That would be me. Don't get any crazy ideas, though.

Disadvantages and Advantages of the Nonprofit Corporation

As most people know, contributions to non-profits are tax deductible, but the organization also benefits from a variety of other factors. Simply put they are: tax exemptions, limited liability, perpetual legal existence, employee benefits, and formality. The first two are pretty self-explanatory. Having a perpetual legal existence kind of makes QUADRE immortal. As the Nolo Press book, How to Form a Nonprofit Corporation states, "[the organization] may, of course, be dissolved but its inherent perpetuity adds an element of certainty regarding the continuance of the group's activities, an attractive feature to the private and public grantor."

While a nonprofit corporation can't share profits amongst employees (and yes, nonprofits can make a profit), salaries can and should be commensurate with for-profit organizations. Given the mission driven nature of QUADRE's work-performing concerts for all ages across the country in formal ticketed situations as well as for students in schools-I hope to see the day when all of the artists can look at QUADRE as a model for how an artist should be compensated and treated. Every season the organization makes great strides in this regard which I'm very proud of. Recent accomplishments include administrative compensation, rehearsal pay for musicians, residuals for recordings, union pension, and documented personnel policies.

Finally, the formality of the organization in regards to its documents (Articles of Incorporation, Bylaws, Minutes of Meetings, Board Resolutions, etc.) creates a "built-in set of ground rules...that is an important advantage...where the composition of the board includes diverse members of the community with correspondingly divergent interests." (Nolo Press, see above) Without these guidelines, reaching collective decisions would be difficult if not completely futile.

Things are not completely rosy however. Nonprofit corporations have a great deal of paperwork to deal with, the high cost of incorporation costs and fees, and lots of time & energy to maintain. The last one is certainly the most noticeable from my end. However, the amount of good that we have been able to do for the community since we became a non-profit is overwhelming. I do feel that the effort to keep things not only going, but going as well as possible, creates a strong incentive to tackle each hurdle with great aplomb.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Books on the Arts & Community

In the QUADRE office, we have a modest collection of books about the music business. This week I wanted to highlight two excellent books that grace our shelves. They both make great holiday gifts for the neighbor, friend, colleague with everything already.

Written by Donna Walker-Kuhne, this delightful text speaks to building bridges to the arts, culture and community. Gregory Mosher of Columbia University and former artistic director of the Lincoln Center Theater writes "it takes more than wonderful artists to make art–it takes wonderful audiences–and Donna Walker-Kuhne knows how to find them. Her strategy isn't 'one free play,' because to her, audience members are more than consumers. They are collaborators in a creative adventure. Her approach–tapping people's spirits and not just their pocketbooks–is genuinely inspiring and long overdue. Use it and you'll never again play for people who are there only because it's the night they have tickets. You deserve better." This is a wonderful book that I highly recommend.


Written by Abram Loft who spent 25 years performing with the Fine Arts Quartet, this book "gives a no-holds-barred account of what life is really like in a chamber music ensemble. This volume provokes thought as much as it entertains, and my copy promises to be the most worn book on my shelf," comments Phillip Ying, violist of the Ying Quartet and vice president of Chamber Music America. I will bring both books to the next board meeting for all of you to take a gander at.

Tuesday, December 5, 2006

Holiday Musical Link; Inspirational Quote

Got this from my parents who got this from someone who got this from somebody else... A fun little ditty to get us all in the holiday spirit. Click Here.

A quote that sits in the office (also from my parents). "Shoot for the moon. Even if you miss, you'll land among the stars..." (Unknown)