. Interchanging Idioms

Friday, March 17, 2017

Science, History and Adventure: What More Do You Want in a Podcast?

The Adventures of Sage and Savant are a conglomeration of science, history and adventure. The heroes, Dr Petronella Sage and Professor Erasmus Savant, travel through time, and there is some serious research behind these adventures. The whole series is built on trying to blend what is known in physics today, set the adventures in the Victorian era--with a gloss of Steampunk--then thrusting them into historical settings. The podcasts are adventures, rather than history or science lectures, so the website includes the research behind the episodes.

In the latest episode, EP 10: The Accidental Tourist, Dr Sage, played by Eddie Louise, travels back in time to Pompeii on the day Vesuvius decides to explode. Knowing her history, the doctor is faced with her impending doom and the knowledge that the people she meets will inevitably die. There is nothing she can do to save them, which provides her assistant, Abigale Entwhistle played by Emily Riley Piatt, no end of consternation. Dr Sage includes an interesting tidbit of science as she explains to Abigale why they cannot use their future knowledge to save anyone in Pompeii. Rather than death by suffocation under the mountain of volcanic ash that would bury the town for hundreds of years, we now know most died instantly of extreme heat, with many casualties shocked into a sort of instant rigor mortis. Even if they could provide someway to prevent against the extreme heat, anyone who survives would suffocate under the ash. It is this inclusion of contemporary scientific thought that makes the episodes so fascinating.

Leveraging modern knowledge of history, podcast author Eddie Louise, drops in tidbits to color the time period to which Sage and Savant travel. Sappho was a Greek poet, but had quite a following in early Roman times. A brief mention by Hilaria (another nod to history as Hilaria was a common Roman name, equating to the modern name Joy), played by AnneMarie Gomez, regarding Sappho provides not only a moment of comedy&mdashpondering if Abigale might be a follower of the poet&mdashbut gives us a glimpse into the life and times of everyday Pompeiians. Eddie Louise also gives a nod to the uncle of noted Roman Historian Pliny, who escaped the falling debris by tying a pillow to his head. Abigale tells her friend Hilaria to grab a pillow which prompts the comment about Sappho. The Narrator, played by Justin Bremer, doesn't let us know if Hilaria made it out alive, but Dr Sage needs herself and Abigale to not, so they can return to their own bodies in their own time.

The way Sage and Savant travel through time is a method they call transmigration&mdashtheir conscious minds are pulled from their own bodies and shifted into the bodies of dead people. This reanimates the dead until such time as that body dies, which forces the conscious mind to revert back to its original host. The website has references supporting these concepts. Current theories of quantum physics suggest quantum objects can travel back in time. There are even theories that our thoughts are not physical, but quantum objects. Our brains are simply the environment that allows those quantum objects to function. Put these theories together and our thoughts, or the quantum objects containing our thoughts, can travel through time.

Although we cannot yet travel through time in this manner, science fiction speculates about what ifs, and this podcast does just that. The Adventures of Sage and Savant pose a variety interesting concepts intermingled with facts. By including a solid background of science and historical fact in their episodes, the places we need to suspend our disbelief are much easier to accept.

The cast and crew for Sage and Savant have produced ten episodes this first season (although episode 7 is a special double episode for Christmas) and hope to have 2 more, with their final episode a double episode as well&mdashfor a total of 14 podcasts. Their fan base is rapidly growing, and I suspect it has a lot to do with the intricate way fact and fiction play so well together.

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Should you be listening to Fox News?

The danger in getting news from Fox News is the perception that what you hear is the truth. In April 2015, the CEO of Fox News admits they are not in the news business, but in the entertainment business.  Fox News is registered with the FCC, not as news, but as entertainment. 

There are a number of reasons for this, one being entertainment programming outperforms news programming. So, in terms of advertising dollars, Fox News does better as entertainment. But, another aspect of being entertainment rather than being news is the requirements set by the FCC. The FCC requires news outlets to be able to substantiate 45% of their news content. This means they have to employ staff to find the sources to corroborate what they report as fact on their broadcast. By not registering as news, Fox can do away with the staffing needs to substantiate what they say. This doesn't mean what they say isn't true, they just haven't done the due diligence to back it up.

According to the 2006 report by The Project on Excellence in Journalism sixty-eight percent of Fox News stories contained personal opinions. MSNBC came in at twenty-seven percent and CNN at four percent.  Even the self-described conservative, Bruce Bartlett argues that Fox News is bad for politics. In his paper titled “How Fox News Changed American Media and Political Dynamics,” he says:

"...it can almost be called self-brainwashing – many conservatives now refuse to even listen to any news or opinion not vetted through Fox, and to believe whatever appears on it as the gospel truth."

Even emails released from with the organization point to daily influence of senior executives as to the slant of stories. There is clearly an agenda by the Fox News organization and it isn't reporting the news.

With the recent scandal of blatantly fake news reports proving to be very lucrative, it appears that Fox News is already ahead of the curve, realizing it can make more money by reporting slanted stories with no concern as to the factual validity. They have gained a huge viewership by peppering just enough actual news into their broadcast, mixed with the sensationalist stories that people find entertaining, to be a very profitable business. But, it is not news. By their own definition, they are not news.

I am in favor of entertainment, but it should be labeled honestly. Calling itself "News" is deceptive.

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Pacific Symphony to Make its Carnegie Hall Debut for a Special Program Dedicated to one of Today’s Most Fascinating and Pre-Eminent Composers, Philip Glass

Pacific Symphony, led by Music Director Carl St.Clair, has been invited to perform for the very first time at one of the world’s most prestigious venues, Carnegie Hall in New York City, in honor of one of today’s leading composers, Philip Glass. Joining them will be Pacific Chorale, also appearing at Carnegie Hall for the first time. One of America’s most revered composers, Glass is Carnegie Hall’s 2017-18 composer-in-residence, where he holds the Richard and Barbara Debs Composer’s Chair. With this season-long residency by Glass, Carnegie joined a yearlong celebration of the composer’s 80th birthday, presenting performances that feature his classics and premieres. As part of the residency, orchestras from across the United States were invited to submit programs featuring important works by Glass in illuminating contexts. Pacific Symphony and the Louisiana Philharmonic Orchestra were the two orchestras chosen, in part by Glass himself, to perform during Carnegie’s upcoming season. Both orchestras emerged among competitors with what Carnegie called “very compelling programs.”

Pacific Symphony makes this significant debut on Saturday, April 21, 2018, when Glass’ famous collaborations with the Indian sitar master Ravi Shankar will be honored during a program that spotlights “Meetings Along the Edge” from “Passages,” a piece Glass recorded with Shankar, whom Glass first met in India in 1965. The eight-minute movement was composed by Glass on a theme of Shankar in 1990. Also on the program is the 40-minute “Concerto No. 3 for Sitar and Orchestra” by Shankar, which was written on commission from the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra and premiered in 2009 by his daughter, Anoushka Shankar, who will perform with Pacific Symphony at Carnegie Hall.

The final work on the program will be the New York premiere of “The Passion of Ramakrishna”—a work of quiet intensity and unforgettable power—scored for vocal soloists, chorus and large orchestra to celebrate the life of this incredible Hindu holy man. Mixing Eastern and Western traditions, Glass’ heroic musical homage paints an exquisite symphonic and choral picture of India emerging from centuries of foreign domination. The epic, 45-minute piece was commissioned by Pacific Symphony and given its world-premiere on Sept. 16, 2006, as part of the grand opening of the orchestra’s then-new home, the Renée and Henry Segerstrom Concert Hall in Costa Mesa, Calif. Gramophone magazine reviewed the Symphony’s 2012 recording of the work, praising it as Glass’ “most thoughtful and inventive recent piece.”

Local Pacific Symphony enthusiasts will have the opportunity to hear the orchestra perform this concert in Orange County on April 12-14, 2018. Single tickets to the Carnegie Hall performance go on sale August 28 at CarnegieHall.org. In addition, Pacific Symphony will announce a patron trip to cheer on the orchestra in New York later this spring.

Friday, June 19, 2015

Dear Mr Graham,

You say, “Our prayers are with the families of the victims and the people of Charleston. We are all heartbroken by this tragedy,” but I don’t believe you.

You made a joke about shooting Bernie Saunders with an interview on MSNBC. You thought imagining the skeet was Bernie Saunders was a good idea, a funny joke - but in truth your joke just allows people like Dylann Storm Roof to justify their actions.

You say the Confederate Flag is part of who we are - and it is part of what made Dylann feel his actions were acceptable.

YOU need to start forcing a change in South Carolina--and yourself. You need to ask yourself just how much your own actions contributed. You're a public figure and so people like Dylann listen to you, respect you and take what you say to heart. YOU may have been joking about shooting Bernie, but what if one (just ONE) of your listeners felt you meant it? YOU feel proud to wave the Confederate Flag, but what if just ONE of those sensing your pride feels that is justification to hate blacks?


You have the power to change people's attitudes, but you must change your own first.


Chip M Clark

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Opera Colorado Appoints Ari Pelto - First Music Director in the Company’s History

Greg Carpenter’s contract renewed as General Director

DENVER, CO (May 20, 2015) Opera Colorado today announced the appointment of Ari Pelto as the first Music Director in its history and the extension of Greg Carpenter’s role as General Director through 2018. Pelto fills an important new role at the Company—partnering with Carpenter to further Opera Colorado’s mission, increase and diversify its programming and repertory, build the national scope of its Young Artists program, and further extend the Company’s reach through engagements in venues outside of the traditional opera house. Pelto will serve as Music Director designee beginning July 1, 2015 and take the helm as Music Director beginning July 1, 2016.

“This is an exciting moment in the history of Opera Colorado,” said Greg Carpenter. “Our hard work over the past few years has provided us with the platform we need to take risks and find ways to reach a variety of audiences. As we look to the future, we need an artistic leader who can continue to push the genre forward. Working with Ari Pelto over the past two years has been one of the most rewarding experiences of my tenure at Opera Colorado. He is a talented conductor who is admired by both the singers and the Opera Colorado Orchestra, and his musical network is vast. Ari has embraced our community of supporters and they too have welcomed him as part of our family. He is the exact partner I need in creating an exhilarating future for Opera Colorado.”

Carpenter and Pelto will be responsible for selecting repertoire for mainstage productions and new works for development, determining the talent for each production, and establishing a creative vision for the Company’s future that both sustains the quality of work presented and broadens its presence in the community. He will continue to conduct several of the Company’s productions each year, including the upcoming world premiere of the new American opera The Scarlet Letter in 2016. Pelto has a long relationship with Opera Colorado, where he has served as Artistic Advisor since his acclaimed debut conducting Don Giovanni in 2013. In addition, he has conducted at opera companies across the country including New York City Opera, Opera Theatre of St. Louis, Boston Lyric Opera, Minnesota Opera, Portland Opera, and Utah Opera.

“From the first moments rehearsing Don Giovanni with the singers, orchestra and chorus of Opera Colorado in the spring of 2013, I knew this was a company to love,” said Ari Pelto. “I'm deeply honored to take the musical reins of Opera Colorado and I look forward to a long and productive partnership with Greg Carpenter, bringing high-level and inspired work to Denver.”

“Greg Carpenter and Ari Pelto have been a vital part of Opera Colorado’s success, presenting excellent programming that has been positively received by our community, actively engaging our youth in educational programming, and simultaneously building a solid financial foundation for our growth moving forward,” said Michael Bock, Chairman of Opera Colorado’s Board of Directors. “We are thrilled to now extend Greg’s role as General Director and bring Ari Pelto on board as our first Music Director as we look towards the future and continued evolution of Opera Colorado.”

Pelto takes on his official new role at Opera Colorado as the Company develops a five-year strategic plan focused on expanding artistic and educational offerings throughout Denver and Colorado. The plan marks another step forward for the Company, which has continued to see significant growth and success from the completion of a restructuring campaign in 2013, which has resulted in higher-than-anticipated ticket sales, sold-out performances, and surpluses in the 2013 and 2014 fiscal years.

About Ari Pelto
Ari Pelto was appointed Opera Colorado’s Artistic Advisor in 2013, following an acclaimed debut conducting Don Giovanni for the company. He recently conducted the Company’s 2014 production of Madama Butterfly, and is also set to conduct Aida in the fall of 2015 and the world premiere of the new American opera The Scarlet Letter in 2016. Pelto is in demand at elite opera houses, ballets, symphonies, and conservatories throughout the United States. After his highly praised 2004 début at New York City Opera with Verdi’s La Traviata, Pelto was engaged as a regular guest there, returning for Madama Butterfly, Jennifer Griffith’s The Dream President, La bohème, and Carmen. Recent highlights include La bohème with the Opera Theatre of St. Louis and the St. Louis Symphony; The Cunning Little Vixen at Chautauqua; Rusalka and La bohème at Boston Lyric Opera; Romeo et Juliet at Minnesota Opera; The Magic Flute, Figaro, and Hansel and Gretel at Portland Opera; as well as Carmen and Hansel and Gretel at Utah Opera. He has also been a regular guest conductor of the Atlanta Ballet. In 2012, he collaborated with Twyla Tharp on the premiere of her new ballet, The Princess and the Goblin. Pelto has conducted operas of Mozart and Stravinsky at the Curtis Institute of Music, Gluck and Mozart at the Juilliard School, Puccini and Massenet at San Francisco Conservatory, and Stephen Paulus and Raffaello de Banfield at the Manhattan School of Music. At the Oberlin Conservatory, he has led works of Mahler, Mozart, and Poulenc, and at New York University, works of Sibelius, Brahms, Dvořák, and Martinu. He has also conducted in Italy, Germany, and Bulgaria. Pelto studied violin performance at Oberlin and conducting at Indiana University.

About Greg Carpenter
The fourth General Director in Opera Colorado’s 31-year history, Greg Carpenter guides both the artistic and administrative operations of the company. His role as General Director began in 2007, prior to which he served as Opera Colorado’s Director of Development from 2004 – 2007, overseeing all fundraising and Board of Directors activities. Prior to joining Opera Colorado, he worked for four years for the National Symphony Orchestra at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, DC. His work there included Special Projects Manager for the President of the National Symphony Orchestra from 2000 – 2001 and Manager of Development from 2001 – 2004. Carpenter’s extensive experience working in the arts also includes two years as the Artist and Event Services Manager for the Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center at the University of Maryland and Special Projects Coordinator for the University of Maryland School of Music. From 1986 – 1998, Greg Carpenter performed as a professional opera singer. His work as an opera singer included both lead and supporting roles at Glimmerglass Opera, Central City Opera, Sarasota Opera, Opera Theatre of Northern Virginia, Cleveland Opera and Lyric Opera Cleveland. Carpenter currently serves on the Board of Directors for OPERA America, the national service organization for the opera industry. For the 2008 National Performing Arts Convention held in Denver, he served as Chairman of the Fundraising Committee. In 2009 Carpenter received a Livingston Fellowship Award in Leadership from the Bonfils-Stanton Foundation. He also regularly serves as a judge for the Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions and has served as a judge for the Fritz and Lavinia Jensen Foundation Competition. Greg Carpenter received a Bachelor of Music degree in vocal performance from Wittenberg University, a Master of Music degree in vocal performance from Michigan State University and he completed post-graduate studies at the University of Maryland School of Music.

About Opera Colorado
A cornerstone of Denver’s cultural community, Opera Colorado presents an annual season of three operas at its downtown Denver home, the Ellie Caulkins Opera House. The Company presents new works alongside standard repertoire, and reaches more than 35,000 students and community members throughout the Rocky Mountain region through a variety of education and outreach programming. Opera Colorado Young Artists, a seven-month residency for singers at the beginning stages of their careers, provides training for the next generation of American opera performers. Founded in 1983, the Company celebrated its 30th anniversary season in 2013 and celebrates the 10th anniversary of the Ellie Caulkins Opera House in September 2015.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Sono Luminus Releases Nordic Affect’s Clockworking

Featuring Music by Icelandic Composers Anna Thorvaldsdottir, Hildur Gudnadóttir, María Huld Markan Sigfúsdóttir, Hafdís Bjarnadóttir, and Thurídur Jónsdóttir

New York, NY – Sono Luminus announces the July 31, 2015 worldwide release of Icelandic ensemble Nordic Affect’s debut album on the label, Clockworking, featuring the music of five Icelandic women composers – Anna Thorvaldsdottir, Hildur Gudnadóttir, María Huld Markan Sigfúsdóttir, Hafdís Bjarnadóttir, and Thurídur Jónsdóttir. The album was recorded by Georg Magnússon at The Icelandic National Broadcasting Service, with mastering and post-production by Valgeir Sigurdsson.

This week, Headphone Commute is featuring the exclusive premiere of the video for the title track, Clockworking by María Huld Markan Sigfúsdóttir, well known for her work with Icelandic band amiina. Watch now at http://bit.ly/HCVideoPremiere.

Clockworking represents collaboration, connection, and passionately fierce creativity. As put by Nordic Affect’s artistic director and violinist Halla Steinunn Stefánsdóttir: “Clockworking, inhaling, exhaling; through music we immerse ourselves in creativity. We find moments of community and of individuality as we shape sounds from gut and wood. We encounter new spaces and interact with technology, which in turn affects how we play. We meet listeners with whom we connect and at times it feels as though we’re breathing as one.” At the core of each of Nordic Affect’s commissions on this album was the desire to explore the possibilities of their instruments (violin, viola, cello, and harpsichord) within a 21st century aesthetic while at the same time creating their own.

Hailed for its “affectionate explorations” (BBC Music Magazine) and “commitment to their repertoire” (Classical Music), Nordic Affect is Halla Steinunn Stefánsdóttir, violin and artistic director; Gudrún Hrund Hardardóttir, viola; Hanna Loftsdóttir, cello; and Guðrún Óskarsdóttir, harpsichord. The ensemble was formed by a group of period-instrument musicians who are united in their passion for viewing familiar musical forms from a different perspective, and for daring to venture into new musical terrain. Since the group’s inception in 2005, Nordic Affect has played repertoire ranging from the dance music of the 17th century to electronic compositions of today.

The album’s title track, Clockworking for violin, viola, cello and electronics, is by María Huld Markan Sigfúsdóttir. The piece was written for Nordic Affect and premiered at Iceland Airwaves in 2013.

2 circles for solo violin was written for for Halla Steinunn Stefánsdóttir by Hildur Gudnadóttir in 2013. The piece is a part of an ongoing observation of the relationship between a musician and her instrument, in which one person becomes two sound sources.

From beacon to beacon for violin, viola, cello and electronics by Hafdís Bjarnadóttir is a “conversation” between two lighthouses. The trio plays notation based on a weather forecast for the Gardskagaviti lighthouse. Electronic sounds were recorded outside the Gardskagaviti lighthouse in wintertime and inside the Galtarviti lighthouse in mid-summer. The piece reflects the vagaries of the Icelandic weather – storms have a beauty of their own that can bring calmness despite howling winds and unruly seas.

INNI - musica da camera for violin and electronics was written for Halla Steinunn Stefánsdóttir by Thurídur Jónsdóttir in 2013. The subtle and fragile harmonics of the baroque violin interact with a soundscape made of an infant's murmur, with an old lullaby woven into the texture.

Shades of Silence for violin, viola, cello and harpsichord was written for Nordic Affect by Anna Thorvaldsdottir in 2012. The work explores the subtle nuances of silence.

Sleeping Pendulum for violin and electronics was written for Halla Steinunn Stefánsdóttir by María Huld Markan Sigfúsdóttir in the winter months of 2010. The electronic part is based on a recording of Halla’s baroque violin playing combined with bell chimes. The solo part fluctuates between free writing and a stricter style. The work was shortlisted in 2012 at the International Rostrum of Composers.

About Nordic Affect: Nordic Affect can be heard on the Deutsche Grammophon (Anna Thorvaldsdottir’s Aerial), Bad Taste Records, Musmap, and Brilliant Classics labels and has received glowing reviews in the international press alongside the Kraumur Award and Iceland Music Awards. Since its debut in 2005, Nordic Affect has performed to critical acclaim at festivals such as TRANSIT festival (BE), Dark Music Days (IS), November Music (NL), BRQ Vantaa Festival (FI), Skálholt Summer Concerts (IS), Copenhagen Renaissance Festival (DK) and Iceland Airwaves (IS). Its members have individually performed and recorded with Jóhann Jóhannsson, The English Concert, Concerto Copenhagen, Anima Eterna Brugge, Orchestre des Champs-Élysées, and Björk. In 2013, Nordic Affect was nominated for the Nordic Council Music Prize and in 2014 was named Performer of the Year at the Iceland Music Awards.

Friday, May 8, 2015

The Boston Pops Kicked Off ITS 2015 Season Wednesday, May 6, with a celebration of Conductor Keith Lockhart’s 20th Anniversary with The Pops

Keith Lockhart led opening night program featuring Broadway sensation Bernadette Peters, music by Boston Pops Laureate Conductor John Williams, and a new orchestral arrangement of  Meghan Trainor’s “All About That Bass”

Celebrating Keith Lockhart’s 20th anniversary as Boston Pops Conductor, the orchestra's 2015 Spring Season opened on Wednesday, May 6 at 8 p.m. with Tony Award-winning actress Bernadette Peters as the special Opening Night guest. Maestro Lockhart was fetted in grand fashion at the end of the evening with a five-foot tall cake presented on stage at Symphony Hall.

Keith Lockhart opened the first concert of the 2015 Boston Pops season with John Williams’ celebratory “Sound the Bells!,” a musical tribute to Frank Sinatra, on the occasion of the 100th anniversary of the singer’s birth, and the premiere of a new orchestra arrangement of Meghan Trainor’s hit pop song “All About that Bass,” written exclusively for the Boston Pops. The Broadway megahit “Everything’s Coming Up Roses”—the first piece Keith Lockhart led in 1995 after being appointed Boston Pops Conductor—opened the second half of the program, which featured Broadway songstress Bernadette Peters in a selection of beloved songs from the Broadway and great American songbook canons. Complete details about the 2015 Boston Pops season are available at www.bostonpops.org.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Calling All Horn Players – Across The Distance

Horn players required for world premiere of a new work from Pulitzer Prize/Grammy Award-Winning ‘eco-composer’ John Luther Adams

At East Neuk Festival on 5 July 2015

The East Neuk Festival (ENF) is sounding the bugle far and wide for a herd (?) of horn players
looking for outdoor musical adventures and challenges in rural Fife this summer.

Following its hugely successful 2013 UK premiere of John Luther Adams’ Inuksuit for 30
percussionists, ENF has commissioned Across the Distance for massed horns for the finale of this
year’s Festival. Led by SCO’s highly acclaimed young principal horn, Alec Frank-Gemill, and seven
other top professional horn players from around the UK, the performance line-up is 32.

Across The Distance will be performed for a promenade audience in and around the parkland and
gardens of the glorious Cambo House and estate situated just south of St Andrews in the East Neuk of
Fife. ENF director Svend Brown enthuses about the prospect of this unique performance: “The idea is
that a ring of horn players will start by surrounding the audience, and as the piece progresses they
move further and further away until the last notes are heard from 50 or 100 metres away... ‘across
the distance’. If Inuksuit was anything to go by, this will be a memorable experience for performers
and audiences alike.”

John Luther Adams is renowned for his large scale works inspired by the environment and written for
outdoor performance, embracing the calls and sounds of wildlife and nature. ‘One of the most
original musical thinkers of the new century’ (Alex Ross/The New Yorker), he recently won the
Pulitzer, William Schuman and Grammy Awards for his work, Beyond Ocean. Adams lives in Alaska and
New Mexico and strives in his work to create musical counterparts to the natural world around him:
“If we’re listening deeply, if we’re listening carefully, if we’re listening with our broadest
awareness,” he explains, “both noise and silence lead us to the same understanding, which is that
the whole world is music.”

World premiere of
     Across The Distance for massed horns in F and in B-flat by John Luther Adams
QUALIFICATIONS minimum Grade 5
AGE no limits either way
26 April 1100-1500hrs Preliminary workshops/auditions, Glasgow Royal Concert Hall

27 June 1100-1600hrs Rehearsal, Cambo Estate Fife

4 July 1600-1800hrs Dress Rehearsal, Cambo Estate Fife

5 July 1400-1800hrs Performance, Cambo Estate Fife

APPLICATION FORM: www.eastneukfestival.com/join-in/

Further information: www.eastneukfestival.com or contact Kate Whitlock at the ENF office

Monday, October 20, 2014

Understanding the Dilemma Orchestras Face when trying to Balanced the Budget

There is more to orchestras balancing their books than just selling more tickets

It is hardly news anymore to hear of an orchestra struggling to balance their budget. Atlanta musicians are locked out for the 2nd time in two years over contract negotiations - the musicians have been asked to take yet another pay cut. The Philadelphia Orchestra declared bankruptcy a couple of years ago. Colorado Symphony has been operating with a deficit for years. These are not isolated examples.

When ever the news reports the demise of an orchestra, there are a half dozen articles that pop up to discussing what changes need to be made in order for orchestras to be profitable again:

- raise ticket prices to cover costs
- lower ticket prices to get more people into the concert hall
- program new music
- program old music
- attract a younger audience
- better leverage the existing audience (particularly the donor base)

The list goes on and on, yet the real problem is: based on the type of orchestra, the cost of putting on a good, live orchestra performance can be quite expensive.  Playing in an orchestra isn't something you can just 'pick up' and start doing; it takes years of practice and education to get good enough to even audition for the better orchestras. Orchestra musicians of the top orchestras in the US are some of the best musicians in the business. A typical orchestra has 80 musicians. Include the cost of the concert hall - orchestras require more space, add to this the time needed for rehearsal of the music, and a single orchestra performance can be considerably more expensive than most contemporary music performances.

It is not possible to just raise ticket prices to cover the cost of an orchestra performance. Classical music is not as popular as contemporary music, so demand for tickets isn't as strong. It is not possible to just raise prices to make more money. Price the tickets too high and the orchestra comes off being elitist; price them too low and the tickets don't pay for the seat the patron is sitting in. For those wanting to raise or lower ticket prices, the question really focuses around trying to maximize profit. Raise the prices too much and the audience won't buy tickets. Classical music doesn't have the demand for pricing that their contemporary artists do. People don't think anything of paying $100+ to get tickets to Pink, Lady Gaga or Justin Timberlake, but are seldom willing to pay half that for an orchestral performance. On one hand we think classical music is elitist and yet don't give it the value we give other musical performers.

Lowering prices does not work either. Should classical music tickets should start at $5 to $10 so students and senior citizens can afford to buy tickets? While lower prices might help attract a new audience, the basic math doesn't hold up. If the concert hall seats 1000 people, and the orchestra sold out at $10, they made $10,000. Divide that by the 80 musicians for their two hours worth of work, plus another six hours of rehearsal (80 x [2+6] = 640) and the musicians made just over $15 an hour - and that's not considering ANY other costs for the performance, hall rental, printing of programs, advertising, the conductor, and so on. If you include the time they had to personally rehearse their parts (add 10 hours and most musicians spend a lot more than that) and their pay drops to $6.90. Try and hire a professional in any field for $7/hr and see what kind of quality you get.

Of course, not all seats are priced at $10, and not all concerts sell 1000 tickets. The juggling act is trying to get the right number of high priced seats verses low priced seats (and all the seats in-between). There is also a sense of value that comes with ticket prices. Cheap and discounted tickets can undermine the value of the end product. With "deal of the day" websites like Group On and Living Social, people are always on the lookout for cheap tickets. But, if classical music is to have value in the market, the price of the tickets needs compare favorable with other ticket prices.

Still, very few orchestras performing in the US make enough in ticket sales to cover the cost of a performance. Orchestras get roughly 50% of their income from ticket sales. The rest comes from donations, grants and other sources. Orchestra music is performed not done because it is profitable, but because the music adds something to our lives, to our communities.

So, how do we make orchestras more popular? 

Some suggest orchestras need to program more new music and not keep performing the same repertoire over and over again. While I am a big fan of new music, programming new music is problematic for orchestras. Professional musicians played all the standard repertoire, so programming a Beethoven or Mozart means the orchestra doesn't need as much rehearsal time as they might when playing a new piece by Higdon, Adams, or Glass. Rehearsal time is expensive, as the more time you need to get a piece ready, means more money you need to make at the box office of compensate. More recent music is still under copyright, so performing a piece of contemporary music cost more than performing a piece by Brahms or Beethoven, whose music is in public domain. Orchestras have to consider what music they have in their library, as renting parts can be costly. New pieces also don't tend to perform at the box office as well. While we may have heard Beethoven's 9th Symphony a half dozen times in the past 10 years, it continues to sell well, to fill concert halls every time it gets played. Of course, orchestras can't just play Beethoven's 9th, but if you ever wonder why it seems orchestras play the same music (over 100 years old, the standard repertoire) over and over again, it is because

  1. the standard repertoire does well at the box office, 
  2. music in the public domain is cheaper, and 
  3. frequently performed pieces don't require as much rehearsal.

Unfortunately, this does tend to stagnate both the repertoire and discourage new audience participation. The balancing act here is trying to include enough of the standard pieces to sell tickets, while performing new works (or less popular ones) to maintain a sense of artistic integrity. It is important for artistic planning to understand a programming less popular music in no way signifies the music is somehow less. It just means there is less demand for it at the box office.

So, if the goal is to play pieces the audience recognizes perhaps they should play more film music. Music by John Williams is very popular with audiences everywhere. However, royalties to perform his works can be costly and erase any potential profit from additional ticket sales.

Orchestras struggle with this idea of popular verses artistic. Not all music in the standard repertoire performs the same at the box office. Musicians don't want to play the same music over and over again. Orchestras might want to play the rarely heard Brahms or Elgar, rather than sitting through another rendition of Tchaikovsky or Rachmaninoff, but the challenging Brahms or the romantic Elgar don't sell as well as the ever popular Tchaikovsky or robust Rachmaninoff. People love Mozart, and somewhat less so Haydn, but try and program a concert filled with Stamitz or Salieri and you'll struggle to give tickets away. For all the fans of Vivaldi and Bach, the prolific Telemann or the talented Couperin are virtually unknown. This does not mean Brahms, Salieri or Telemann should be ignored or that musicians hate playing Tchaikovsky, Rachmaninoff, Mozart, Haydn, Vivaldi or Bach. There is a lot of great music considered part of the standard repertoire, and musicians like playing it all. Unfortunately, some composers, some pieces do better at the box office. Programming music has to done with the understanding as to what the music will mean in regards to sales balanced against what needs to be done to fill the artistic need of the orchestra.

The idea of getting a younger audience into the concert hall is nothing new, and every orchestra out there has some program designed to do just this. However, there is also the realization that younger audience members generally don't have the spending capital as their older counter-parts. Plus, much of the established donor base is older. They have reached a point in their life where they have the luxury to give both time and money to the arts. While it is important to bring in new audience members, orchestras can't afford to alienate existing patrons to try and grasp a potential new audience. So, whether the orchestra is attempting to program new music, or create an atmosphere that appeals to the a new audience, it has to be balance this against what their existing patrons want from the orchestra.

One of the problems orchestras face today is the lack of understanding about the very things I am discussing in this blog post. Musicians want to be paid fairly for their work (as we all do). Audience members want cheap tickets and for the orchestra to perform more of the music they want to hear (whether that is new music or the standard repertoire). Because demand for classical music isn't enough to have continual sell out performances, it is necessary to balance all of these concerns.

Types of Orchestras

In the US orchestras come in a variety of different levels (not necessarily based on quality of the musician):

  • 52 week orchestras
    These orchestras perform 52 weeks a year. The musicians are paid a salary whether they perform or not, so it is in the interest of the orchestra administration to have the orchestra perform as often as possible.
  • Pay per service
    These musicians are paid per time they spend rehearsing and/or performing. Typically there is a contract between the musicians (generally the union) and the administration for a rate at which the musicians are paid. Rehearsals are expensive as they generate no revenue, but performances with few rehearsals don't sound as good.
  • Pay to play (volunteer)
    These orchestras ask their musicians to pay a small fee to cover costs of the orchestra. Hopefully ticket sales will make the rest.

Each of these models has benefits and drawbacks, yet each struggle in their own way to balance their budgets.

52 week orchestras - the NY Phil, the LA Phil, San Francisco Symphony, Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Boston Symphony Orchestra, and more - are the cream of the crop. The musicians play together all the time, and are generally paid pretty well in terms of average US wages. Musicians at this level are generally educated to the masters level and may have additional performance certifications beyond their masters degree. Much like Doctors, musicians at this level are constantly honing their craft, 'working' far more than the standard 40 hour work week to maintain their standard of performance. Because they are performing every week -- often multiple performances each week, each with different music -- they have less time between performances to learn new music. While they may have 8-12 hours of rehearsal time per concert, the musicians often dedicate twice that (or more) at home learning their parts, particularly for pieces they have never played before. Add to this their performance hours are not 9-5, but evenings and weekends.

Pay per service are orchestras that don't perform every week, so the administration 'hires' the musicians for when they want to put on a performance. They have a set of standard musicians the administration use with an alternate list of musicians to fill in space as needed. The musicians don't play together as often as in 52 week orchestras, so they need more rehearsal time to achieve quality performances. Many of the musicians have to work other jobs - lots of them - in order to make ends meet. They have to juggle working as teachers or playing in other ensembles with their obligations with the orchestra. And, unless they are a principal chair, they may not play in every performance. If the concert is Mozart or Haydn, the number of musicians needed on stage is much less than if the concert has Mahler, Stravinsky or John Williams. In some respects Pay per service orchestra are easier to budget than 52 week orchestras because administration can plan on the cost of the musicians well in advance. Since rehearsals are paid time for the musicians, Pay per service orchestras have to balance how much rehearsal time the music needs for a performance, how many musicians need to be on stage - Mahler symphonies take more musicians than those of Haydn, but tend to bring in more audience - with how well they think the concert will perform at the box office.

Pay to play orchestras are often the most solvent on the group. If the orchestra does not balance the budget, they either charge more to play or the group stops performing. The balancing act is really based on how much are the musicians willing to pay to play in the orchestra. Because the musicians have to pay to participate, they are not full time musicians, therefore generally not the quality the other types or orchestras get.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Boston Symphony Orchestra Introduces First-Ever Tanglewood Lawncast on July 11

A new technology pilot program offering up to 500 lawn patrons exclusive digital media content while listening to an All-Dvořák program led by BSO Music Director Designate Andris Nelsons

On July 11, during an all-Dvořák BSO concert under the direction of BSO Music Director Designate Andris Nelsons, the Boston Symphony Orchestra will introduce the first-ever Tanglewood Lawncast, a unique, technology-enhanced lawn experience, offering participating patrons access to exclusive digital media content—program notes, performer interviews, and additional camera feeds—via their smartphones and tablets. The Tanglewood Lawncast pilot program will take place on a specifically designated area of the lawn outside of the Koussevitzky Music Shed, with space to accommodate up to 500 patrons with lawn tickets. Patrons interested in participating in the program can register at www.tanglewood.org/lawncast, with availability determined on a first-come, first-served basis.

July 11 Tangelwood Lawncast program will feature Anne-Sophie Mutter, who joins Mr. Nelsons and the BSO for Dvořák’s Violin Concerto, as part of a program that will also include the composer’s pastoral and tuneful Symphony No. 8, and the rarely performed 1896 symphonic poem The Noonday Witch. Additional dates will be added to the Tanglewood Lawncast program, details of which will be announced at a later date.


Patrons participating in the Tanglewood Lawncast pilot program will have access to two isolated camera feeds—one focusing on the conductor and another on an alternate view of the orchestra—that are part of a multiple camera shoot used to create the concert broadcast that is projected onto the large video screens located inside and on top of the Koussevitzky Music Shed. Patrons will also be able to access exclusive interviews with BSO Music Director Designate Andris Nelsons and guest soloist Anne-Sophie Mutter, as well as with the BSO’s Associate Concertmaster Elita Kang, Principal Flute Elizabeth Rowe, and Cellist Mihael Jojatu. In addition, archival footage and audio and written program notes will be available for this pilot project.

Patrons participating in the Lawncast will be encouraged to post about their experiences on social media before and after the concert and during intermission. In addition to encouraging participants to post on their own and the BSO’s Facebook and Twitter pages, the BSO will set up a special Tanglewood-only CO Everywhere page where patrons attending the July 11 concert can share their experiences with each other. After the concert, Tanglewood will host a post-concert reception and conduct focus groups with those who participated to get their feedback on this technology-enhanced concert experience.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Why are people under 40 not in your concert hall?

Symphonies are becoming increasingly aware that the average age of their patrons and ticket buyers are aging, with no real increase in getting a younger generation of symphony goers to replace them. Why??? It comes down to how we communicate with this younger generation.

If your concert hall does not have people under the age of 35, it is because of the culture you have established. They do not feel comfortable in your hall and until they do, they have no desire to attend your concerts.  This is, of course, a generalization, but overall, people under the age of 35 have a few things in common that we need to be aware of in order to effectively market to them.

There are roughly 79 million Millennials in the United States—25 percent of the population. The Millennials exceed the number of Baby Boomers (often their parents) by about 3 million. They have been through two recessions: one at the beginning of the millennium, another in the great recession caused by the mortgage crisis in 2009. These had a significant impact on the financial confidence and trust Millennials give corporations and organizations, which affects how they spend money.

Millennials tend to see themselves as conscientious with their money, making educated purchases and shunning excess. If it isn’t a good deal, they are not interested. 56% believe technology makes them more effective with their time. This group looks for speed, ease of purchase, and efficiency when choosing a shopping destination. Studies have shown that Millennials do not like brands that explicitly “sell” to them; but brands that provide new, robust, relevant information will have more success and create repeat engagement. This generation grew up in a world of choice. They know they have options in every aspect of their lives.

More than any other generation, Millennials rely on each other, sharing opinions with friends to make more informed decisions. They are a very social group. 54% believe technology makes them closer with friends and family. In order to connect to them, organizations need to be social and interactive, not just information vending.

Here are nine reasons Millennials may not be attending your concerts 

Are you online?
Most people under 40 do not remember a time before the internet. They grew up on social media; they are digital natives. The internet is not something they’ve added to their life. It has always been there. For many, it is where a good portion of their life is led. Eighty percent have a profile on one of the major social networking sites. They connect with friends (many they have never met in person), from around the world, they check out restaurants reviews before dining out and likely they are checking out what the internet says about you before buying a ticket. If you are not online – and not just a website – people under 40 will assume you are not interested in their business.

Are you inward focused?
If all your media messaging is spent attracting the people who already attend, then the ones who do not will never be interested.  The younger generations have a reputation of being self-absorbed – half have posted a “selfie” online. They also passionately support causes that inspire them. Over 80% made a financial gift to an organization in 2012. Their biggest discouragement in giving is not knowing how the gift will be used to make a difference. They want to be part of a larger cause. If that’s not you, they will get involved somewhere else.

They do not trust you
Two-thirds of people under 40 say “you can’t be too careful” when it comes to trusting people and are particularly leery of businesses. Only 19 percent felt people could be trusted generally speaking. They are cynical of those people and businesses they do not know. Younger generations will fact check your statistics and anecdotes. This is only made worse if your own facts do not match with other facts you or others have published about you. Inconsistencies scream of dishonesty.

You are not diverse enough
Millennials are the most diverse generation in history and they look for experiences that do the same. More than 40% of adult Millennials are non-white, the highest share of any generation. About half the newborns born today are non-white. If your symphony is not reaching people outside of one ethnic or cultural group, your box office has not hope of reaching Millennials.

You are too institutional
When it comes to institutions, Millennials run the other way. Political parties? Half describe themselves as independents. Marriage? Only 26% of Millennial adults have walked the aisle. Religion? Almost 3-in-10 are unaffiliated. That does not mean they cannot learn to see the benefits of those institutions, but unlike previous generations, they don’t trust them inherently. Symphonies are perceived as part of the establishment, so you will need to break this mold before you can gain their trust.

You focused on Sales, rather than social connection
The younger generations are all about social connections as evidenced by the rapid growth of social media. But they don’t want to see marketing. They prefer to engage with entities they resonate with, so if you are not engaging with them, they are not interested in you. Engagement is not telling them about your next concert; it is telling them why the concert will be interesting. 

Millennials are multi-taskers
This entire generation grew up with MTV, music videos and concerts that were filled with a variety of stimulus. Contemporary music concerts have lights and video, beyond the music. Many also include places to dance and become physically active while enjoying the concert. The idea of just sitting and listening to music is not something that interests the younger generation. If they want to just sit and listen to music, they’ll play it on their iPod or mp3 player. Concerts need to be more engaging, more stimulating to reach the younger audience.

Automated and last minute decisions
Everyone from McDonalds to Goldman Sachs have found that Millennials are not only willing, but more interested in automated transactions. They are comfortable purchasing tickets via websites, including on their smartphones. They are more willing to self-checkout the grocery store than their older counterparts. Many of their decisions are also last minute, wait to see what all their options are before actually making a purchase or committing to an evening’s activity. You need to provide Millennials with a way to purchase online, and if you really want their business, a way to do so up to the very last minute.

You don’t offer real community

They recognize the need to connect, but they’ve chosen to do it through affinity groups and not institutions. Using social media, they have cultivated relationships with people next door and around the world who share their viewpoints and perspectives. They want to have the support of their friends. Seventy percent of Millennials are more excited about a decision they’ve made when their friends agree, compared with 48% of non-Millennials. Connecting with people and products are an important part of their world. 

If you want Millennials in your concert hall you need to start thinking and acting more like a Millennial. 

Friday, April 18, 2014

The Need for Well Rounded Students

Lou Spisto is at it again, calling for well rounded students

Reblog from: Dallas Daily News

Louis Spisto Encourages Well-Rounded Education for Today’s Students

According to arts advocates like Louis Spisto, keeping arts education in schools is essential to the development of today’s students. Throughout his long career as a producer and arts executive, Spisto has led the development of community and education-based performing arts and theater programs designed to spread appreciation of the arts amongst youth.

Unfortunately, in the era of school budget cuts, arts education is almost always one of the primary targets. Schools nationwide are trimming arts programs, and students are no longer learning to appreciate music, visual and performing arts. This is worrying to Louis Spisto and many others in the art community.

“The argument for arts education is robust for so many reasons, regardless of how strict budgetary limitations become,” says Lou Spisto.

According to a report by Americans for the Arts, arts education strengthens problem-solving and critical-thinking skills. “If they are exploring and thinking and experimenting and trying new ideas, then creativity has a chance to blossom,” says MaryAnn Kohl, an arts educator and author of numerous books about art education. There are many benefits of instructing students in the arts. Parents, educators, and other community members need to join together and fight to keep the arts in schools.

The Arts Increase Student Potential

All students have the potential to grow and learn. Through their instruction, they are able to identify their strengths and develop skills that allow them to thrive in future endeavors. Unfortunately, many assume that math, science, and language are the only important topics in the curriculum. This is mainly because our educational system spawned from the Industrial Revolution, which placed heavy significance on disciplines that translated directly to the mechanical needs of society. Ken Robinson, British Culture Leader, challenges the way we’re educating in his TED Talk.

Having learned a great deal through his own involvement in the arts, Louis Spisto is an example of how exposure to the arts is critical in education.

Spisto explains that, through his years of community involvement, he has seen how the arts can increase a student’s potential in numerous ways. Engaging in the arts allows students to discover new skills that they may have not known that they possessed. Creativity, problem solving, critical thinking are important lessons that students learn through exposure to the arts–lessons they will carry with them forever. Developing these key skills will help students with the personal and professional challenges they encounter as they grow older.

Studying the Arts Helps Students Develop a Well-Rounded Perspective of the World

Whether learning about painting, theater, dancing or music, children are exposed to new ideas and cultures when studying the arts. They allow for creative self-expression denied to students in other subjects. They help teach new concepts and different ways of thinking. This effects how students think and understand situations from multiple points of view.

Today’s world is becoming increasingly interconnected, thanks largely to the power of the Internet and other technology. But this globalization also means that people need to learn how to interact with one another, and how to appreciate different ideas, beliefs, and values that other cultures may hold.

Studying the arts helps students to become global citizens, rather than just members of their local community. More than any other subject, the arts demonstrate diversity, eclecticism and alternate points of view. Learning these and growing to appreciate them creates a more rounded and tolerant person. Through the arts, it’s possible to gain a new appreciation for the world.

This global perspective can enrich an individual’s life tremendously. Louis Spisto notes that including arts in education is also crucial to appreciate the ways that an arts-focused educational approach can boost professional development.

“Looking at the professional implications alone, theater and other arts can help students to develop into successful individuals who thrive in their chosen field,” says Lou Spisto. “From a communications standpoint, this exposure gives students the ability to understand people from diverse cultures and backgrounds. These enhanced communication skills are what drive teamwork and enable final products to be delivered.”

Studies show that students may actually perform better academically when they are exposed to the arts. The School Superintendents Association (AASA) reports that research is revealing the impressive impact of arts instruction on students’ cognitive, social and emotional development.

One of the most compelling reasons that the arts are important is the ability for students to use the skills they learn from artistic endeavors in other settings. These skills can translate to many areas of life, both personal and professional. And, of course, they can also improve academic achievement.

According to Louis Spisto, another reason it may be beneficial for students to study the arts is because it may help them put ideas into context. Instead of simply learning about certain historical events or ideas, students can study artistic projects that reflect these issues. As such, they can better understand what is taught in history and other classes because they have a way of envisioning some of these ideas in a new context.

The Creative Community Allows for a Deeper Level of Involvement

Art is a community-based field that thrives on collaboration and shared ideas. While some artistic activities can be performed independently, the arts as a whole promotes community. This encourages engagement, and promotes interaction with other individuals.

This interaction can help students better learn about themselves and the world around them. Additionally, it can facilitate the development of communication and other key skills, which help students succeed as citizens of the world.

Students Who Study the Arts Have a Richer Educational Experience

Studying the arts also builds new skills and a stronger appreciation for culture and the world as a whole. It’s clear that teaching the arts in today’s schools allows students to benefit from a richer educational experience.

“Today’s arts education programs are in danger of being cut completely due to financial limitations. Anyone who is passionate about keeping the arts in schools is encouraged to speak up and let their voice be heard,” Lou Spisto says.

ABOUT: Louis Spisto is a producer and arts executive with experience planning and building new venues, as well as leading transformational change for nationally respected organizations. Louis Spisto looks forward to continuing to play a role in the development and success of arts in communities.