Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Classical Music Thinking

On February 9th and 10th, I had the distinct pleasure of participating in a Classical Music Think Tank sponsored by the Association of Performing Arts Presenters. It was held in Detroit at the downtown Marriott. While I was there I also got the opportunity to hear uplifting performances by the Mosaic Singers and Sphinx organization.

Imagine 35 people music professionals from around the country getting together for 2 days to discuss where classical music is headed. Imagine that these people come from large and small organizations and serve as musicians, arts administrators, managers, composers, teaching artists, professors, managers, presenters, record producers and in some cases - all of the above. Now, try to imagine all of these people that span several generations being able to agree on where we're headed let alone what we should do to create opportunities for the future.

Fortunately, this group-for which I had the pleasure of taking part-had the guidance of Sandra Gibson, president and CEO of the Association of Performing Arts Presenters as well as think tank facilitator Richard Kessler who serves as executive director for The Center for Arts Education based in New York, NY. Each of them, in their own way, helped to create an atmosphere where issues were discussed between all of us. In particular, the think tank focused on the present and future climate of: demographics in the United States, the ecology of the "classical" music industry, and the motivations of listeners to be engaged.

After much "thinking", the discussion seemed to become distilled around four major topics: new avenues of participation, new language/lexicon for the industry, teaching & learning, and field capacity to respond and build. Each of these four topics was further explored along the lines of technology, the concept of evolution/revolution, research & development, and passive:active thinking.

I left the think tank 2007 much as I did after the one in San Francisco in 2005, invigorated. I see a gorgeous world of possibility that still is largely untapped. I also see a world where the philosophy that defines our art is very different for a great many people. In fact, how each of the 35 participants viewed their particular slice of the world, seemed to greatly affect their interpretation of risk, programming, and language. Malcolm Gladwell, the author of Blink would have had a field day with us. We all took part in the ancient silent and not-so-silent ritual of exploring that 'today is just not like yesterday' and 'what will tomorrow bring.' I attribute this to human nature along with the fact that each of us is working incredibly hard at what we do. Nevertheless, we all know tomorrow comes and everything works out one way or another in the end. The boundaries of our industry are continuing to evolve and in many ways, this forum served as a chance for us to help figure out the new borders that will invariably change in the next blink of an eye.

For more thoughts on the think tank, catch Jim Hirsch's blog here. He was another one of the participants at the Think Tank and currently serves as the executive director for the Chicago Sinfonietta.

Like the 2005 think tank, I left with some concrete suggestions for the future while in Detroit. (Where I might add, everyone in that city was absolutely wonderful.) In regards to the following list, certain people should be credited. However, to be fair I will list all these suggestions anonymously since I can't remember exactly who said what. My apologies to the authors for my sieve of a brain. In no particular order:

1. Invest in Research and Development
2. Take Risks with your programming, organization's model, and goals
3. Partner/Collaborate with organizations in mutually beneficial ways
4. Collaboration is communication, creativity, vulnerability, & reciprocity
5. Create ways to enable your art to be active and passive for your listeners
6. Get feedback about your ecology outside of your "world"
7. Go Grassroots (volunteers, listening groups, street marketing teams, etc.)
8. In the role of advocacy, affect change bottom up and top down
9. Shatter notions of exclusivity through marketing and artistic engagement
10. Create avenues for investment & involvement across racial, gender, ethnic, cultural and interdisciplinary boundaries. At the same time, assess where and how these boundaries came to be.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

BEING AN ARTIST: Composing & Performing (1 of 2)

This week's topics deal with two things that make up a big part of my life as an artist. This is the first in a two part blog about my role in the cogs of classical music and how it is similar to many of my colleagues here in San Francisco and throughout the country.

Of all the things I do as a musician, I have probably spent the most time in my life preparing for and doing concert performances. They are the reason I love what I do. They serve to remind me of my role in the grand scheme of things. Performing on stage, in a club, at a coffee house, etc. is an other-worldy experience. You literally transform into another person. All of the time spent practicing and honing your skills on your instrument are realized and you become completely focused in a cycle of creation. On a practical level, it is a natural high to play and hear applause upon your conclusion. And as a student, concerts served as little goals to go after to better oneself. Once you were done with one, there was always another around the corner.

I think the most exciting aspect of performing for me is that I never know what will happen. Silence serves as a blank canvas and the music that I create will never sound exactly the same ever again. The colors, textures, and subject of each painting will also be different for everyone listening to the music. As a performer I get the wonderful honor of creating that soundworld for the audience and interpreting music out of silence.

While my performing may serve as the vehicle for expressing moods and feelings in real time, my role as a composer is one where I attempt to capture my soul in a bottle. The sounds swirling in my head are given a home and my deepest and darkest reflections are brought to life. It is the opportunity where my musical training is brought to bear and society's thoughts and directions get a place to call home.

Composing is liberating. You get the chance to create a work of art that will influence those around you. They may be asked to think. They may be expected to laugh or cry. The composer has the responsibility for seeing the world around them - real or imaginary - and giving others (performers and listeners) the opportunity to experience that world. I find composing the most difficult and natural at the same time. Given the confines of Western classical notation (which is where my training lies) capturing ones soul can be a challenge to realize on paper. Nevertheless, when the act is done, the whole episode inspires and uplifts me in a way that nothing else can.

Tuesday, February 6, 2007

California Arts Council Conference

This week I turn TuesdayAt2 over to two of my colleagues: Mathew Croft, associate artist with QUADRE who you all know and love :) and Barry Hessenius, former director of the California Arts Council. They both were at the California Arts Council conference last Tuesday in Sacramento and provide thoughts and a wrap-up on the experience.

CAC Conference Wrap-Up
Barry Hessenius has a blog hosted by WESTAF - the Western States Arts Federation. He has been doing it since April 2005. Click here to read a run-down on what happened at the conference from his perspective.

CAC Conference Reactions/Thoughts
By Mathew Croft
Attending this event was an amazing and eye-opening experience for me. We can't just be in our own little world, making our music, and expect to succeed. We [the arts industry] are a business, and we need to work like a more effective business, getting involved in the political arena, if only on a local level, will be worth the efforts, both long and short term. We also need to seek opportunities to collaborate with other artists of every discipline, to reach more people, not to "prove" to anyone that we are relevant, but to BE more relevant to more people.

A message that seemed rather strong to me was when we were asked how many of us knew our senator and representative on a first-name-basis. I certainly hadn't ever thought of this, but we all know (if we think about it for a second), that people support those that they know and trust. If our politicians don't know and trust us, how are we going to have their support? It's how to get things done.

Arts Council Roundtable notes
The CAC Has 3 Main Missions:

1) Advocacy
2) Public Awareness (Publicity)
3) Programming

The most clear and comprehensive area that they presented to us was in the Public Awareness area. They are trying to educate legislators, on a state level, but with California's term limits they are constantly working with new legislators. They encouraged us all to get involved with our local government leaders, who are usually the pool of future state legislators, to let them know what we are doing, how we benefit the people that they represent, not only for the good it does on the local level, but also pre-exposure to the benefits of the arts if they move on to state level politics.

**Dana Gioia Quotes - more on Dana in Barry's report
"We have an obligation to enter the public conversation about what we are doing."
"Politicians are just doing their jobs-making life better for their constituents. It's our job to create win-win arguments to politicians on how we enrich the lives of all people."
"We need to be positive, not negative; inclusive, not selective, and democratic, not polarizing."