. Interchanging Idioms: June 2012

Monday, June 25, 2012

TwtrSymphony's Debut track The Hawk Goes Hunting Due Out Friday July 6th

TwtrSymphony will release their debut track The Hawk Goes Hunting Friday July 6th, 2012.

Hawk is the 1st movement of Chip Michael's Symphony No. 2 -Birds of a Feather, a new composition created specifically for a Social Media Symphony. TwtrSymphony, a new concept in the symphony orchestra, would only be possible in our modern era of global communications. A collection of musicians from around the world met over Twitter and conspired to form an orchestra participating in the TwtrSymphony project. This newly formed organization works to create new music in keeping with the character limit of a tweet - 140 seconds at a time.

For each symphonic movement and each chamber piece, the composer must create the score, the individual parts and click tracks which provide the necessary framework for playing together without a conductor. The musicians must then record their part in remote sessions and upload them to the web. Finally, the various tracks are put together and engineered by Garry Boyle of Civilian Project Productions in the UK to create the final product. This week, TwtrSymphony moves from concept to reality by releasing their first track.

The Hawk Goes Hunting is the first movement of a symphony and at 2'10" keeps within the 140 second time limit. The other three movements will be released over the next few weeks and the audience will be able to listen to the symphony as a whole by midsummer. All four tracks played together will come in under 9 minutes making this one of the shortest symphonies on record. Joseph Haydn's Symphony No. 2 is in 3 movements with no repeats, also lasts about 9 minutes. Aaron Copland's Symphony No. 2 "Short Symphony" is approximately 16 minutes. Dr Michael Wolters of the Birmingham Conservatoire holds the record for the shortest symphony, Spring Symphony: The Joy of Life --utilizing full orchestra forces in 4 movements lasting approximately 17 seconds.

Musicians communicate with each other over Twitter, email, Skype and Google Hangouts. In addition to the Symphony, there are two chamber pieces in the works. One by Chip Michael and another by composer Alison Wrenn.

A link to listen and download a copy of The Hawk Goes Hunting will be available Friday on http://TwtrSymphony.InstantEncore.com

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Review: BRAVE and the music of Patrick Doyle

The Society of Composers & Lyricist had a special showing of BRAVE last night with a Q&A session with Patrick Doyle after the film.

Let me start of by say Pixar has done it again. BRAVE is a wonderful film, with a charming story line that really captures the beauty of Scotland. This is not a twee (cheezy) film that mocks Scotland like Brigadoon, but captures both the attitudes (good and bad) of the people, the feeling of the landscape and heart of the music without pandering to stereotypes. The voices are alive with the accent, albeit the accents have been softened a bit to be understandable (for an American audience). The rich colors of the countryside occasionally look cartoon-ish, but for someone who lived there for 10 years and traveled highlands, lowlands and islands extensively, believe the colors are real. Patrick Doyle dug deep into his roots growing up in Uddingston Scotland (just outside Glasgow) and brought in some stellar Celtic musicians to give the film an authentic feel.

From the tin whistle right as the opening credits begin, to the long sustains of the Celtic fiddle when the sun comes up on the standing stones (near the end of the film) the music grabs you, transports you and never lets you forget you are in a land filled with magic and wonder. The pipers from "The Red Hot Chili Pipers" lend their expertise to the film, but are never over stated. Celtic harp, tin whistles, bag bipes, bodhrans, dulcimers and uilleann pipes all make appearances on the soundtrack, but are highlights rather than base. The London Symphony Orchestra provided rich foundation for the Celtic instrumental coloring. James Shearman conducted and orchestrated the film.

The film is animation, yet I can't remember a film that recreated the feeling of Scotland and its sense of mystery as well as BRAVE.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Rethinking What Orchestra Music Means to Those Under 40

The world has changed over the past 40 years since Don McLean recorded “American Pie” –the day the music died.

I don't think we need to start any riots to get those under 40 into the concert hall. Nor do I think we need to abandon what we have (and the audience that loves it) just to get a younger audience in attendance. However, I do think there are some things we should think about when approaching the problem --mainly, the ways that the changing cultural landscape has created a very different way of thinking about and interacting with the world as a whole for those under 40.

The last four decades have seen a huge shift in the way we think and interact with each other. People who are less than 40 years old were not yet born when Neil Armstrong took the first steps on the moon (1969). While they may have been old enough to remember when MTV came out (1981), they weren't yet into their teens. The term 'personal computer' was used as early as 1972, and the first IBM PC was sold to the public in August 1981. In 1975 sales of microwave ovens exceed sales of gas ranges. In 1989 the internet was made public and by 1992 Delphi was the first to offer internet connectivity for a fee. Children born 40 years ago would JUST be turning 20 as the internet was exploding. They couldn't legally drink alcohol in the United States.

In the last ten years alone, we have seen the internet move from a luxury item to standard line item on our phone bill. Record companies have shifted from fighting the war against downloaded music, to digital delivery as their primary source of income. Music lovers who are under the age of 40 have a very different view of life than those over 40.

The reason these differences are important lies in the way they shape how we think. People under 40 don't think about whether the frozen dinner they purchase in the store comes in a microwavable dish. It just does! They don't wonder if they're going to be able to call someone when they leave for holiday. They know they'll have their phone, so of course they can call. And music has ALWAYS had video. They may choose to listen without watching the corresponding video, but having video and music together doesn't seem at all incongruous.

There has been a lot of talk about what we need to do to get younger people into the concert hall. We know they like classical music because classical music downloads are a solid share of the music market. We know they like classical music because their video games and films are filled with classical music, albeit modern compositions --not the standard repertoire we typically hear in the concert hall. Still, the youth of today LIKE classical music. Final Fantasy came out in 1987 with a full orchestral score. Zelda came out in 1989 and its score is making the circuit of orchestras around the world. Diablo III just came out this year and the sound track can be purchased separately. The young are NOT people who avoid classical music.

So why aren't they coming into the concert hall?
A potential reason is the atmosphere isn't conducive to their way of enjoying music. They are comfortable with multimedia during performances. They want to feel a connection with the musicians. They want to be able to express themselves, through cheering and applause during a performance.

However, creating an atmosphere of boisterous music and fans, isn't likely to be the kind of experience those over 40 are much interested in. Current orchestra audiences are accustomed to attending concerts solely for the music. There is a power in the music they resonate with which doesn't need any additional trappings to make a connection.

Audiences haven't always been like they are now. In Stravinsky's time there was a shift from noise as common place in the hall, to reserved and reflective audience engagement with the music. Unless you're over 110 years old, you probably don't remember a time when the audience regularly applauded between movements, or broke out in cheers after a particularly good instrumental solo.

It is unlikely we're going to convince the under 40 crowd to accept the current model of performance. It is just as inappropriate to throw out the current model for something else. We need at least two different styles of performances, each engaging a different type of audience.  Just as churches in the 60's and 70's began to use folk music with guitars to 'woo' a younger audience back to church, orchestras need to re-think the way they perform for a younger audience.  And, just as the churches didn't just throw out the organ for folk music, but rather created one folk service for one ‘audience’ appeal and another 'traditional' service to target their existing ‘audience,’ orchestras need to target the different audiences with different styles of concert experiences.

Different concert styles don’t call for different programming. There are plenty over 40 who like adventurous programming, as there are many under 40 who like Bach, Beethoven, and Brahms.   The key is to create an atmosphere that is comfortable for the crowd you are trying to attract. If the Wednesday night audience is when most of the 'regulars' come to the concert hall, then keep Wednesday night performance just as it is.  Make Tuesday or Thursday night performance something different.

The difference doesn't have to be multimedia either.  But, if there is a way to include video into the budget, visuals are a large part of the current music landscape for those under 40, particularly in the concert setting.  Casual dress for the orchestra is another option.  I'm not talking about ragged jeans and t-shirts, but nice clothes that aren't the standard white tie we see today.  Having a 'happy hour' where the lobby and bar are open an hour (to two) before the performance works. Get some of the musicians to mingle an hour before the performance!

There are many more ideas out there that would work. We do need to do something.  I believe we need to frame the discussion with an understanding of the world the under 40's inhabit, and an acknowledgement that culture is a changing beast. We must acknowledge that or risk becoming culturally irrelevant. 

Talking About Audiences - Roundtable Discussion

from American Orchestra Forum

While classical music continues to grow artistically via commissions, new music, and new channels of distribution, the core orchestral presentation—a live, on-stage concert—is essentially unchanged over the past 100 years. Will that, can that, remain the case for the next 100 years?

Mark Clague, associate professor of music, University of Michigan; Matthew VanBesien, Executive Director Designate, New York Philharmonic; Sunil Iyengar, Director of Research & Analysis, National Endowment for the Arts; Elizabeth Scott, Chief Media and Digital Officer, Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts - formerly V.P., Major League Baseball Productions; Brent Assink, Executive Director, San Francisco Symphony; and Steven Winn, San Francisco arts journalist and author

Recorded May 13, 2012 in San Francisco, CA.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Celebrate Independence Eve with a free concert by the Colorado Symphony, a spectacular fireworks display and more!

Join Colorado Symphony for Independence Eve presented by Anadarko, a FREE Colorado Symphony concert, light show and fireworks display on Tuesday, July 3, in Denver’s Civic Center Park (Colfax & Broadway) beginning at 8:00 pm.

Lawn seating will be available on a first-come, first-served basis; arriving early is greatly encouraged, as are blankets or low-rise concert/beach chairs. Attendees are welcome to bring their own picnics; concessions will also be available on-site.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Classical Music is Waging War

Tents have been pitched, flags are flying with various colors demarking the armies who have come to do battle. Soldiers are busy sharpening their weapons, polishing their armor, making sure every thing is ready to reap maximum carnage when the time comes. Leaders are rallying their troops, spurring them on with motivational speeches designed to prove their cause is just. Tactics are carefully planned to maximize the effectiveness of each arsenal. Each army convinced they will win the day.

The problem with this picture is the war being waged isn't against another foe, some foreign invader. The war in Classical Music is a civil war, armies which should be on the same side are fighting against each other. People who should be cooperating to look for the future of Classical Music are entrenching their ideas. Ideas are selective rather than inclusive. It is a Solomon's dilemma --do we hack the baby in pieces to appease everyone?

This battle isn't a one off, winner takes all. The various battles are dividing loyalties and laying waste to a ground that new supporters are hesitant to step on. So, not only are the various armies dwindling in size due to the casualties suffered, there are fewer and fewer new recruits to fill the ranks.

What are these battles?

AGE: Should orchestras attempt to woo a younger audience or should they continue to cater to the older audience which, historically has been their primary source of income?

PROGRAMMING: Should orchestras program new works, attempting to appeal to a new audience, or program more pieces from the traditional repertoire which have historically been popular?

ETIQUETTE: Should audiences be encouraged to applaud and even call out vocally whenever they want, or should all applause be held to the end of the entire piece?

To make matters worse, these battles are waged as gorilla warfare -- attacks come in subtle ways, often in the guise of support. A wealthy patron offers to provide a sizable gift, then makes demands as to the kind of programming they want to see (or don't wish to see). Avid concert goers attend a concert where the atmosphere wasn't as they liked so they complain threatening to never come back, until someone offers them a 'peace offering' of complimentary tickets or an invitation to a special event. Musicians feel unappreciated. Administrators feel taken advantage of. And the war wages on.

There are any number of clich├ęs which might provide guidance:

If you're not part of the solution, you're part of the problem.

If you can't say something nice, don't say anything at all.

Why can't we all just get along.

The real problem is we are in a passionate industry. The musicians are passionate about what they're doing, the patrons are passionate about what they want to hear (and support), the audience is passionate about what they like (and don't like). These passions have come to rule the day and create divisions that don't need to exist.

I had a lovely, long conversation over twitter the other day. Several people were involved, with the divisions only growing deeper the longer the conversation went on. Some people were speaking out for the older generation, the 40+ crowd, suggesting this was the generation orchestras should be focused on. Other's were suggesting orchestras needed to look to the younger crowd, the 20-30 year old's. Attempts at trying to appease both were initially dismissed on all sides as pandering to the other 'camp.' In the end, the conversation took a turn and many of those involved realized that more than one solution was possible, and no single group should be the sole focus of an orchestra's marketing or programming.

I wonder how many people not actively participating in this conversation, left part way through? Left before there was agreement? How many people get involved in these kinds of discussions and disliking the contention, decide they are done, take their toys and go home?

Audience size is dwindling. Average audience age is increasing. While there are isolated cases bucking the trend, the overall industry is headed down a dark path. War isn't pretty. While I am not suggesting this is the death knell for Classical Music, the in-fighting is killing many of our potential allies. We need solutions that embrace multiple groups and perspectives, we need people who are willing to accept alternatives to their own ideas and we need to start working together.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Engaging a Younger Audience in the Concert Hall

An invitation to join an online discussion: Engaging a younger audience in the concert hall

Greg Sandow wrote an excellent article back in 2008 "Age of the audience" which discusses how the classical music audience is aging. He posted "A wild time" today about the classical music crisis, fact or fiction. Industry professional all over the country are exploring options to stem the tide of an aging audience and dwindling ticket sales.

I have invited some of my colleges to join me on Google Hangout to openly discuss this issue, and present ways we can change the trend. There is no date set, as invitations have just been sent out.

Watch this space for when the discussion will take place. You can also send your questions and suggestions to me via twitter @Chipmichael.

Monday, June 11, 2012

New Music Readings Highlight Nation's Top Young Composers Audience Choice Winner Announced

Six talented composers participated in the 21st annual Underwood New Music Readings -- ACO's roundup of the country's brightest emerging composers, June 1-2. George Manahan conducted new music by Ryan Chase, Peter Fahey, Michael-Thomas Foumai, Paul Kerekes, Pin Hsin Lin and Benjamin Taylor. Several composers blogged about their experiences. (Check below.) Next month we will announce the winner of the coveted $15,000 Underwood commission. Today we are proud to announce that Ryan Chase is the winner of the Audience Choice Award with his thrill-ride, The Light Fantastic. Every audience member who voted will receive a newly composed ringtone from the winner. Congratulations Ryan!

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Narcissist or Enthusiast: Is My Promotion of Classical Music Self-Serving?

A line from the film "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" (1992) comes to mind: "Does the word "duh" mean anything to you?"

Yes, unabashedly my promotion of classical music is very self-serving. Not only am I a passionate admirer of classical music, but I am a composer who writes for orchestras and classical chamber ensembles. The better the classical industry does, the more likely I am to get my pieces played. There is no doubt that some of my passionate promotion of the art form has a personal agenda.

However, I often tweet or post on Facebook concerts or conversations from orchestras I have no personal stake in. Many of the musicians I converse with over social media are not currently performing my music nor do they have plans to do so in the foreseeable future. Very little of what I write about on this blog is even indirectly related to potential future income. Most of it is just "getting the word out" --a very important task in my opinion.

Yesterday I posted about "How to Get More People to Listen to Classical Music" where I speak about the need of musicians to get out and spread the word. I feel it's important to take that sentiment to heart. Musicians and ensembles everywhere need to not just talk about what they're doing, but talk up friends and associates endeavors as well.

In another blog post i discuss, "How is TwtrSymphony Getting so much Attention." One of the hallmarks of the publicity campaign for the orchestra is to spend as much time talking about the individual projects of the musicians as it does talking about itself. We notice a decided knock-on effect: talking about the musicians within the orchestra is a round about way of talking about the orchestra. Advertising a CD release from a musician whose recording was done with another ensemble, or talking up an e-book released by one of our musicians does nothing for TwtrSymphony's bottom line. What it does do is help introduce us as individuals and makes the people we're talking about want to talk about us more. the more interesting we are as a group and as individuals, the more talk we engender.

Have you read the Facebook and Twitter feeds of the London Symphony and the London Philharmonic orchestras? If so, you'll know both of these organizations spend a fair amount of time talking up the other. While both orchestras are competing for the same audience, they seem to be very aware that a healthy classical music interest in London benefits both organizations. Nashville Symphony and Boston Symphony spend about 10-15% of their online 'chatter' talking about what's going on with other orchestras. Again, these organizations realize the importance of spreading the news about what's happening in the classical music scene. The healthier the scene is, the more we all benefit.

So, while there is an element of narcissism in my "shout out's" for my classical music friends, the Friday Follows on Twitter, blog posts and other online noise I make, the end goal is to build enthusiasm for classical music. I am passionate about classical music. If you're passionate about classical music, spread the word!

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

How to Get More People to Listen to Classical Music

Creating a desire for people to attend and support classical music organizations

I just finished reading Michael Kaiser's "The Art of the Turnaround --creating and maintaining healthy arts organizations." It's a wonderful read for anyone interested in promoting the arts. As a composer, my interest lies with Symphony Orchestra's, but Michael's experience is applicable to any arts organization.

One of the big messages is the concept that arts organizations need to create a sense of interest in the public and supporters. IF an organization looks to be creating something worthy, then people will want to support it. Michael gives case studies of the organizations he's worked with and how he created a sense of value for each. This value is important. People want to feel as though the money they are giving is going to something worthwhile, whether it's for the purchase of a ticket, or in a donation. If the organization is elitist, or exclusionary, you limit the number of people who will want to support your organization.

A couple of weeks ago I wrote "What's Wrong with the Symphony Orchestra Model we have Today?" I posted the article to LinkedIn and the argument continues on how to best resolve the issue of struggling orchestras. While there are a number of opinions, pretty much every one agrees orchestras need to reach more people. This isn't just tickets sold, but also in terms of donations. But donors don't want to donate to an orchestra that only marginally fills the hall. People want to back a winner.

"The Art of the Turnaround" says this over and over again. Struggling organizations have to turn the impression of a failing organization into showing what the future potential can be for the organization. A great way to do this is to get the musicians talking about the music.

Musicians in all forms of classical music need to step up and start actively promoting their ensembles. It is not enough to just have a marketing or publicity department talking to the press. Social media is rapidly becoming the 'go to' place for people to get their information. Facebook is positioning itself as the one-stop-shop for where people go to get updates --not only about their friends, but their interests, news and anything that affects their life. Regardless of what you think about this or whether you want it, the reality is Facebook is where more people go than any other source of information. While other forms of social media don't have the same clout, social media is where society is talking. If arts organisations are not active on social media, they are slowly becoming invisible to the general public. If their performers are not actively participating in talking about these arts organizations, the arts organizations are missing a vital way to get more attention for what they do.

Arts organizations and classical music in general need more people talking about how great it is. We need to show how interesting it is --the value it has for everyone.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Composing for a Moving Target: The Growth and Attrition of TwtrSymphony

With the genesis of a project there are always numerous people excited by the new idea and wanting to participate. As projects stabilize, some of the initial enthusiasm is lost resulting in natural growing pains and attrition. TwtrSymphony, like all new projects is a bit of a moving target as we negotiate the stabilization process.

Trying to compose a symphony for an orchestra in the throes of genesis has been challenging!

TwtrSymphony is a living organism, growing, changing and maturing, made up of musicians who have their own very busy lives. Often the most talented musicians are also those most in demand. So, when musicians already playing in established orchestras, or with solo careers in their own right, inquire about playing with TwtrSymphony, we're over-joyed at the prospect. However, we must also be realistic. TwtrSymphony, by nature of Remote Session recording and tight deadlines, is not for everyone.

As we negotiated the audition process, it became apparent we were going to have fluctuating numbers. We grew rapidly during our first month when chatter was constant and excitement was high. From my post as Music Director and composer, it was necessary to try and find a specific number of musicians to create a steady ensemble and give me some idea of whom I would be composing for. The auditions gave us a set number of people, capable of playing to a standard and fulfilling the technical requirements of recording and I felt confident enough to start composing the first movement.

As a musician (trombone), I hate getting an orchestra part with 50+ measures of rest, three measures of playing, followed by another huge rest. In these cases it feels like more of my time is spent waiting than playing. Worse is a part that is integral to the harmonies of the piece but so monotonous as to put me to sleep (or cause me to loose count as to what measure we are on). In writing music for TwtrSymphony, I wanted to write parts that each musician could look at and say, "Wow, that looks fun to play." Then, when the music is finished, they could actually hear the role their part plays, not be buried under tons of duplicate parts. What this means is each part is unique, individual, with moments where it stands out.

I succeeded in writing music I would want to play. However, the musicians who jumped on board TwtrSymphony are extremely busy --many of them managing their own very active professional careers. For some, even though they were keenly interested, their personal schedules just didn't allow adding one more activity to the pile. In a few cases, even though I'd written a part specifically for a musician, playing with us wasn't in the stars. The result was some parts in the first couple of movements that didn't get recorded. Some obvious holes existed in the music which needed fixed.

Over the course of the past couple of months we have had numerous requests from other musicians asking to join our ranks. Initially I didn't allow these new musicians to join up as I wanted to keep the numbers stable. But as musicians needed to pull out, I began to realize that I needed to be more flexible. New musicians were a necessity and we put a call out for some of the more difficult roles to fill. The unique demands of our format mean that we won't be maintaining a standard roster of unchanging musicians, but rather a flexible group of highly talented individuals who will participate as time allows. I think this can be very freeing for us as an ensemble if we embrace it.

Right now we're standing at fifty-six musicians. The final two movements are composed, and out with the musicians. Almost all the recordings are in for the first two movements and in the hands of our sound engineer. As a composer, the fluctuating reality of our organization opens up a whole new avenue of thought - an either/or approach to orchestration. In many ways TwtrSymphony will be an embodiment of the art of improvisation. Appropriate for an ensemble born out of social media and the dreams of musicians scattered across the globe.