Thursday, August 25, 2005

The Power of a Mother, Music, and a Dime

Reading about the state of classical music today is mostly pretty grim stuff. So, it is always happy reading when someone, somewhere, is doing something positive, either using classical music, or is fostering it. Read on.

This takes place in Jakarta where mother and housewife, Yayuk Rahardjo, has used music, classical in particular, as a means by which hundreds of young people can express themselves and do something constructive rather than take drugs, skip school or engage in other acts of delinquency.

She believes music as an art form can empower people, especially youths, who might be at a loss about their direction in life. Yayuk's endeavor comes from a firm belief that if nurtured from an early stage, music could provide people with an ethical foundation. Philosophers through the centuries have maintained the same belief; behavioral scientists, too.

Over the past eight years, an organization she helped found and now chairs, Indonesian Youth Music (YMI), which is a member of Jeunesses Musicales Internationale (JMI) in Canada, Germany, Netherlands, et al, (check out their website!) has recruited hundreds of talented young people from cities like Yogyakarta, Medan, Surabaya and Jakarta to form the National Youth Music Orchestra, an institution that provides them with scores of master classes by respected musicians, and has brought them to the spotlight by staging concerts in some of the city's venerated cultural centers. The orchestra has performed works by Beethoven, Bach, Schubert Mozart and others.

And this paragraph is especially noteworthy: For other less gifted young people, YMI has given them an opportunity to engage in activities relating to music in which they can explore the less glitzy side of performance art, such as artist management, sound system management and promoting hard-to-sell classical concerts. Scores of programs are designed to educate young people outside the organization about the merits of classical music, in a kind of lecture concert.

To nurture a love of music from an early age, Yayuk has also organized dance and music therapy for children between two and four years old -- an endeavor she considers a success as some of her students have become consummate musicians.

Almost every weekend, her office in Kebayoran Baru, South Jakarta, teems with young people who immerse themselves in music and other related activities. These young people also had big hand in organizing the 60th international congress of (JMI), the mother organization of YMI, between Aug. 15 and Aug. 19.

Indonesia is the third country in Asia and Pacific to hold the meet after Japan and South Korea. The programs were organized despite their being almost nothing in YMI's coffers. As a member of Belgium-based JMI, which bars its affiliates from engaging in commercial activities to finance their activities, YMI has had to rely on itself to keep its programs running.

Ever since its establishment, YMI has depended solely on sponsorship to support its programs. Such a budget constraint has prompted YMI to rely on word of mouth recommendation as its means of advertisement, even when it stages a major classical concert.

A wonderful story and achievement, and an inspiration to those who would like to DO something, as well as to those who don’t because “there’s no money”.

(This is an edited and recreated version of an article by M. Taufiqurrahman appearing in the Jakarta Post, Sanur, Bali) Aug. 18

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Then there is this head shaker:

Will The Internet Save Classical Music? "In the virtual absence of classical radio in America, the Internet can provide what radio does for other musical genres, namely a “free” means of hearing new and unfamiliar music, which if you like, you’ll go out and buy. But with the element of radio removed from the market structure, there are almost no places to randomly hear Beethoven’s “Eroica” Symphony or Stravinsky’s “Rite of Spring” while driving home from school or work. The Net provides direct access. With the stuffiness removed from the classical experience, people can hear just how glorious Stravinsky really is." Kansas City Star 08/21/05

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It’s as plain as the nose on your face. The financial problems of orchestras and the decline of classical audiences equals the incline of classical music as a business and its ever-increasing unimaginative, incompetent, MBAs and their salaries.

"It used to be orchestras had very small staffs and gave many fewer concerts," said Joseph Horowitz, the author of the recent book "Classical Music in America: A History of Its Rise and Fall." "This is the nub of the issue. It's a surfeit of product that's causing many of the dysfunctions." That, he says, and the lack of charismatic music directors, amid an overabundance of marketing directors. (Most orchestras did not even have marketing departments until the 1970's. Today, a staff of a dozen is typical.)

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

A Voice In The Wilderness

Walter Simmons, whose book Voices in the Wilderness: Six American Neo-Romantic Composers, is the first of a planned series of critical studies of modern American composers: Barber, Bloch, Creston (born Giuseppe Guttoveggio), Flagello, Gianinni, and Hanson. Mr. Simmons has championed lesser-known American composers for a long time, but with a caveat: their music must embody traditional aesthetic values of beauty, clarity, and emotional expression. Anybody else is dismissed… another Hanslick! (Sigh!)

What a turn around! Usually we read that atonal composers today have been/are neglected and that serialism is past its prime. Recently we have been told that gays are responsible for an American style, thanks to Nadine Hubbs. And now we are told that stylistically divergent Barber, Bloch, and Hanson, are neglected.. Their neglect is the reason for Mr. Simmons’ attention. It is also another of his salvos against “modernists.”

We may accept all this is with a de gustibus shrug, or plead the beholder’s eye, but Mr. Simmons’ goes on. He believes that these tonal, derivative, and neo-Romantics are neglected because they have been dismissed by universities and critics for not being “original” or atonal. It is at this point that I dismiss him for such desperate arm waving-even if he can drag up examples. As for critics, we should never mind them. They are wrong most of the time anyway. Mr. Simmons’ studies would likely stand more proudly without his unreasonable attack on musical society.

If you can overlook his bias against modernists, and probably academia too, the plus sides of Mr. Simmons’ work is that he is intimate with his material and it may help that one day we will have a more broadly balanced view of music in America.

Voices in the Wilderness: Six American Neo-Romantic Composers by Walter Simmons,
Scarecrow Press, 2004

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How come it takes years before we can hear a fine new score? Allan Kozinn writes, “Orchestras seem content to be museums now, even as they wring their hands about dropping subscription sales and graying listeners. But maybe there's someone in a programming department somewhere who sees the percentage in shaking things up, in treating new works as if they not only matter but have the power to breathe life into this sleepy business.” NY Times 8.15

Thursday, August 11, 2005

Groans

Wagner's music is better than it sounds. Bill Nye

A story is told that Richard Wagner was walking on a street in Berlin one day and came across an organ-grinder who was grinding out the overture to Tannhäuser. Wagner stopped and said, "As a matter of fact, you are playing it too fast." The organ-grinder at once recognized Wagner, tipped his hat, and said, "Oh thank you, Herr Wagner! Thank you, Herr Wagner!" The next day Wagner returned to the same spot and found the organ-grinder grinding out the overture at the correct tempo. Behind him was a big sign: "PUPIL OF RICHARD WAGNER."

Jazz will endure just as long people hear it through their feet instead of their brains. John Philip Sousa

Jazz is not a craze…its significance is that it is one of the greatest landmarks of modern art. George Antheil

Writing about music is like dancing about architecture.

How do you get a cellist to play fortissimo?
Write "pp, expressivo" on the music.

How can you tell that there's a vocalist at your front door?
They forgot the key and don't know when to come in.

The composer Robert Schumann wrote at the beginning of one of his compositions: "To be played as fast as possible." A few measures later he wrote: "Faster."

A man and his son were walking through a cemetery. The boy asked, "Daddy, do they bury two people in the same grave?" The father said, "Two people? Let me look."
So the father took a look, and sure enough, the marker said, "Here lies a symphony conductor and a humble man."

We know a guy who was so dumb his teacher gave him two sticks and he became a drummer, but lost one and became a conductor.

Musician: "Did you hear my last recital?"
Friend: "I hope so."

"Do you love music?"
"Yes, but never mind, you may continue playing."

Donny Osmond has van Gogh’s ear for music.

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

On Blogging (oops! excuse me-weblogging)

I found another weblog,
I found another weblog,
I read another weblog and whaddaya think I saw?
I saw another weblog, etc.

I’m a relative newcomer to blogs and weblogging and I didn’t realize when I started that the network was so vast. It’s not only that there are blog sites on every conceivable subject, their categories and sub-categories, but the number of them on any specific topic is boggling. There were only 23 blogs in early 1999 but by September 2000, Rebecca Blood writes, there were thousands and she couldn’t keep track of them then. I don’t have any idea how many weblog sites and bloggers there are now and I suspect that my wildest estimate would fall far short.

So, seven years later, it was interesting to come across an exchange between A.C. Douglas and Forrest Covington on defining what a weblog is, and is not. The term itself is one of personal taste by Mr. Douglas, who eschews the term blog, preferring weblog. Both sides make a point so it can easily reduce itself to a verbal fray. I have a thin skin so I won’t enter into that except to cite that Web Hosting Glossary (WHG) defines a blog simply as “frequent, chronological publication of personal thoughts and web links.”

The reason I started weblogging is because, as a long-time subscriber to the New Yorker, going back to Winthrop Sargent days and a happy reader of Alex Ross’ columns, I was delighted to discover not long ago he had a blog site (I’m sometimes slow) with links that set me off on the journey of blog discovery. I’m not over it yet. Every few days I find another, and another, and another, and I wonder how can anyone read all this stuff? It’s a full-time, eye and brain - tiring effort.

Elimination may be a key. By eliminating webloggers who post stuff of no interest to me, and those that are poorly written, and those that become personal attacks between bloggers, and those who obviously don’t know what they are talking about, I’ve gotten it down to where I can almost handle it. The problem is that I’m still in a discovery mode and I find two for each one I toss.

I see weblogging as an opportunity to express myself on musical matters that concern me. I see blogging as a wonderful way to learn from one another. I see blogging as an avenue to writing - for me, a happy activity. I see blogging as opening doors into new rooms of knowledge and fancy. As I read more and more weblogs, I found more and more to interest me. I’m sure I’m not alone in this experience and it became apparent that my concerns would have to be limited to things that really interested me and avoid what I think is trivia. Maybe I should have avoided this one.

I had hoped that my take on things would encourage a positive exchange-even criticism can be positive, but I have experienced very little feedback, which leads me to believe that my interests are no one else’s. I note that there are conclaves of bloggers with specific interests who write and react only between themselves. Some require “membership” to join the group, perhaps a reaction against anonymity or the massive number of weblogs. I note that most bloggers do not permit comments or an exchange. And this brings me back around to the Douglas-Covington exchange that tries to nail down the nature of a weblog.

The only reason I found this is because ACD nicely corrected a statement I made that there is probably more written on Beethoven than any other composer. He pointed out that Beethoven comes in third after Wagner and Mozart. So, I looked up A.C. Douglas, and among many other posts by him found his exchange with Mr. Covington that explained quite ably his position, with which I respect but disagree. For the record I also disagree with Mr. Covington who is perhaps a long-time blogger and doesn’t care for change.

I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to handle even half of the music blogs out there. Maybe a solution is to only write, not read, them or v.v. - a sorry solution.