Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Queries and Creation

QUADRE Queries
One of things that fascinates me is how we interpret our world. It seems that there as many perspectives as people on the planet. There are certainly tastemakers that influence our views, but by in large, I feel we each have a source of worldly insight that is unique given our upbringing, milieu, and experience.

For this reason, asking questions about the horn and music seem like a great opportunity to see some of those perspectives come to light. One of the pages on our ensemble's website is dedicated to these questions and answers. It is our QUADRE Queries page. For a laugh check it out here. And I pose a challenge to each of you - think of a question you'd like some perspective on and ask ten people independently. At the very least, it should provide a sense of connection between you and these ten individuals. At the most, you'll gain insights into your character and theirs. Good luck!

Composing for the Masses
Success is in the eye of the beholder. We live in a world where one hit wonders abound. Where the latest and greatest artists on the pop circuit today, may be a distant memory tomorrow. With these high peaks and deep valleys, how does a modern day "classical" composer function?

My first thought as one of those aforementioned composers is to just compose whatever comes to mind and disregard the establishment. However, I think that if one takes this approach a lot of opportunities can be missed. For example, a local brass quintet may want or better yet, need, a new piece for their concert. Do you turn down the work based on the fact that you're in the thick of constructing your requiem?

On the other hand, I think that bowing continually to societal pressures and composing what you think people will want is a recipe for artistic failure as well. While the monetary rewards may be great, I think taking such an approach can prevent the composer from finding their voice and establishing their style.

I think there can be a wonderful compromise in the middle that doesn't impinge upon a composer's aesthetics and allows them to be flexible to their artistic climate. What do I speak of? Why, the village bard of course!

These qualities seem central to the village bard's repertoire:

1. Finding the connections between their art and the community
2. Free expression of their thoughts and feelings
3. Learning to move on if the present crowd isn't into their style

The world has become so large, why not simplify it by bringing back the village bard. I'm all for it. Let the strings be strum.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Artists in Today's World and Momentum

Artists in Today's World
Check out this article forwarded by Derek Sivers of CD Baby. Fabulous piece about independent artists in today's world. Click here to read all about it.

On Friday May 11, I spoke on a panel for the arts in Mountain View. The panel was brought together by Leadership Mountain View and moderated by Patricia Cheng, a local pianist. My hat is off to the great artists and arts organizations we have here in Mountain View. Participants on the panel included Scott Whisler, Executive Director of the Mountain View Center for the Performing Arts; Jeffry Walker, Executive Director of the Community School of Music and Arts; Karen Simpson, Executive Director of Peninsula Youth Theatre; Phil Santora, Manager Director for TheatreWorks and Laura Deem, a local visual artist.

I found the discussions and ideas raised from the panel very illuminating. Questions like how are the arts relevant to our community, what would be an ideal future for the arts, and what does it take to create an atmosphere of creativity were raised. We even started a dialogue about the formation of a Mountain View Art Collective. We'll see how that develops.

In addition to the panel in the morning, each Leadership Mountain View (LMV) student chose a local non profit arts organization (either PYT, TheatreWorks, Quadre, or CSMA) to research. In the afternoon, the LMV students went over to Freestyle Academy where they worked with those students to create a public service announcement (PSA) based on the question, "Why is X organization important to Mountain View?".

I got a chance to hear and see the Quadre PSA done by LMV and Freestyle students in the afternoon. (Thanks to Sharlene Gee for getting it.) It went like this: "Caltrain's not the only horn in Mountain View... QUADRE - The Voice of Four Horns." Very clever.

There is an audio clip that goes with the slogan. Be sure to check it out by clicking here.

Tuesday, May 1, 2007

Will virtual sounds replace live music?

Last weekend I received an email from a student at Los Altos High School asking me for my thoughts on "digital music." He was trying to figure out if live music will be replaced by virtual sounds. What follows is a copy of the letter on the subject. By the way, this is certainly a great topic to utilize the comments feature on this blog. Hint, hint. :-)

(Written by Daniel Wood to a HS student in Los Altos, CA)
Glad you're taking this topic on. A great many people in the American Federation of Musicians have been talking about this for years. However, some of the recent advancements in technology have created an environment with disturbing trends. Synthesizers have reduced the numbers of musicians in Broadway pit orchestras. Musician unions, under pressure, reduced the minimum number of musicians required for services. Samples of live musicians utilized in notated programs such as Sibelius and Notion now offer the ability to tap a tempo with real-time playback thus allowing one person to literally tap an entire score.

For more information
1. Call the SF Musicians' Union (415)575-0777. Ask them for more resources on this topic.
2. Investigate the software NOTION online. There are higher end products out there that can do the same things with much more realistic results. However, this will give you a feel for it. Scroll down to hear Tchaikovsky's Nutcracker using this software.


Q) Do you believe that digital music can replace an orchestral sound?

A) I feel that, ultimately, digital music can get incredibly close to replicating an orchestral sound. If samples using live musicians are used, it can be very convincing. I heard a score at the beginning of April that sounded very realistic. It was a trailer for a movie. The composer was in Utah and was pitching the idea to a producer in Los Angeles. He did it in one night. It wasn't quite right, but very close. Enough to get the job.

The one thing that digital music will take a long time to do is interpret the same performance differently. Variety is a quality that some of us hold very dear. It will be a while yet until digital music not only replicates the sound accurately, but interprets the music in the myriad of ways that live musicians do.

That said, digital music is already replacing orchestral sounds on albums for rock, country, r&b, classical, jazz, soul, etc. If the audience isn't discerning or doesn't care, it is hard to justify the extra expense of hiring an entire orchestra for a studio session or tour.

Q) Do you think the increase in use of digital music has made it harder for you to find employment as a musician?

A) My focus is on solo performances and chamber music. I have never relied on studio work, musical theater, symphonic work, opera or ballet as a means of income. Also, I utilize digital music technology in my solo shows a great deal, so for me, I've actually seen more opportunities emerge as a live musician with the advancements.

That said, I have noticed trends in the employment for my peers and colleagues. The hardest hit has been studio work. When a visual component serves as the dominant medium of an art form, then all other aspects - such as audio - become secondary. This can also be said for modern-day musical theater.

While there has been a reduction in services and size of the ensemble from time to time for symphonic, opera and ballet work, I do not believe that digital music has been the primary cause for this trend. While opera and ballet do have a strong visual component, I think that since these arts forms are more traditional and fine art in nature the music gets equal footing.

Q) What kinds of new things has digital music enabled to you to do in the creation of music?

A) Live looping. Playing with an accompaniment. Ability to hear ones composition in a way that somewhat reflects how it will ultimately sound. Effects - reverb, delay, distortion, etc.