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By Jonathan Hai
September 15, 2012 13:56
Post No. 21
Anyway – what happened was this – we moved to a new house, finally our very own, at the beginning of August. That's all. It's really as mundane and as boring as that… Only it didn’t feel mundane nor boring. It felt like one of the most stressful and hectic periods of our life. And my blog is what fell through the cracks. Actually that's not even true. What fell through the cracks was Yonatan's poor quartet, which was put on hold for almost three months, while Yonatan used all his considerable talent and experience to oversee the construction of the house, and if that's not enough, he also decided to do much of the woodwork himself. So instead of using the saws, scrapers and varnishes in his workshop for violin making purposes, he used them to restore, renovate and build some major wood-elements of our new home. Here you can see two of the six (!!) doors that he renovated, but he also prepared the butcher block that makes up half of our kitchen, built our son Itamar a new bed etc. etc.
It all came out extremely beautiful, and obviously much more exact and refined than doors or beds were ever intended to be, but I guess now you understand why there was basically no time to advance the quartet, and thus basically nothing for me to write about.
So – now our life has finally calmed down, the new house feels like a home, kids are all back to school and kindergartens, and work on the quartet has resumed, as has my blog…. I hope some of you have missed it at least half as much as I missed writing it :)
So as a teaser for next week's post, (which will deal with tanning, if you can believe it), here's a picture from this week of the four instruments together. Looking at this picture I see that what I wrote was too pessimistic since Yonatan has actually managed to make quite a lot of progress during these past weeks: three of the instruments are closed and ready, while the last violin will be closed in the coming few days.
But now, we will begin the really hectic period: we have exactly one month to finish the entire quartet, so that it will be ready in time. The four necks have still to be prepared and fitted, all instruments need to be varnished, and all four setups need to be fitted as well. It's true that most of the work is behind us, but wow – doing all that in a single month will be one hell of a challenge!!
As a side remark, tomorrow is the Hebrew New Year. So keep your fingers crossed and continue to follow us as we embark on the final stage of what is now already a 10-month process of Yonatan turning blocks of wood into four beautifully-hand-made, playing instruments, while I turn this amazing process of creativity into …well… words!
By The Weekend Vote
September 15, 2012 11:33
I get these kinds of messages all the time:
"Hello, I'm a 12 year old violinist student,, kinda beginner student,, kindly ask something ? can you give me some easy music sheets ? (popular music) , thnk you, ASAP"
Has the Internet age made people this passive? Just, "Find me some music and send it, ASAP," really?
I would argue that you can learn quite a lot, just in the act of looking for music. Certainly, you can find such arrangements on the Internet. Further, consider going to your local music store, meeting the people there, and looking through whatever music they have to offer.
Also, you need to pay for the sheet music you use. No one owes you the service of transcribing popular music into an easy format for free, so you can play it on your violin as a beginner. Try transcribing it yourself. Too hard? That's why you need to pay for the music.
Have you checked out your local music store?
By Emily Hogstad
September 14, 2012 14:01
On 30 September the contracts of the musicians of the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra (SPCO) and Minnesota Orchestra expire, and tense negotiations are ongoing. I've written thousands and thousands of words (literally) on the subject, and if you want, you can find those here. If you just want a summary of what happened last week, click here.
In early September the SPCO musicians were claiming that management was proposing a contract that included 57%-67% salary cuts. (Interim CEO Dobson West later denied this.) In advance of meetings between musicians and management on Monday and Tuesday, management proposed a new contract. This one included salary cuts of 15%, a reduction in the size of the orchestra from 34 to 28 players, retirement packages for players over 55, and a new two-tiered salary in which current players would be guaranteed $62,500 a year, while new incoming players would only be guaranteed $50,000. In this Star Tribune article, West refers to the new contract as a "significant stretch for the Society and its donors." Although the outline of the contract was released on 7 September, it is unclear when management originally drafted and approved the ideas contained within it. I'm also not clear why it took this long to get to this point, as negotiations have been ongoing since December of last year...?
Happily, the musicians didn't reject the terms of the proposed contract outright, and in fact they almost seemed vaguely hopeful about them. "The musicians of the SPCO are encouraged, and we think our supporters should be, too, to learn the SPCO management has found money to spend. However, we are puzzled by how they intend to invest these funds. We hope to learn more in our upcoming negotiations scheduled for next Monday and Tuesday."
After these meetings occurred, MPR reported that management never showed the musicians the formal language of the contract. In fact, according to the musicians, management will not be able to draft the language in the contract and share it with musicians until "next week at the earliest." Nevertheless, management would like "a response" from the musicians by the next negotiating session on 21 September, which would only give the musicians a few days - at the most - to look over the document.
Since then, nothing more has come out, and so I can only assume that the musicians are still waiting on management to draft and share that contract. In the meantime, time is ticking, and their current contract expires in sixteen days. So, um, no pressure or anything...feel free to take your time, guys...it's not like you've been negotiating for the last ten months or anything...
Developments in Minneapolis were a lot more depressing this week.
If you'll remember from last week, after management released their proposed contract without the musicians' say or knowledge via website, the musicians fought back by requesting an independent audit of the orchestra's finances, alleging that different people have been given different numbers at different times. Management responded thus: "Every year the Minnesota Orchestra performs a thorough, independent audit process by one of the nation's top accounting firms. We have shared all of our recent audited results with the Union and answered these questions many times in our negotiation sessions over the last five months." This doesn't address the musicians' allegation, so feel free to speculate. (I've used the phrase "feel free to speculate" so often on my blog lately I feel inclined to trademark it...)
Sadly, it's becoming increasingly clear that management's proposals will cause many musicians to retire or seek work elsewhere (if they aren't already, and many clearly are). In an interview with the Pioneer Press that made musicians around the nation cringe, board chair and Wells Fargo executive vice president Jon Campbell said of potential turnover:
"The number of highly trained musicians that this country is producing every year is really quite remarkable. If you just take the top echelon of music schools in the U.S., they produce almost 3,000 performing artists a year. So couple what's happening in the marketplace with a large supply - not to dismiss the fact that we don't want to lose any of our wonderful musicians - but there may be some changes."
Campbell did not elaborate on whether he would like to implement an accelerated schedule of auditions to replace the departing players; if he is envisioning an orchestra with a large percentage of substitute players; or if he feels the musicians won't be able to get work elsewhere and are therefore in effect trapped in Minnesota. Unfortunately, nobody followed up on that question.
Campbell's colleague Richard Davis, head of the management negotiating team, commented in another interview:
"These are real people with real lives, and they have to protect their own financial circumstances and artistic integrity. There's a risk that they find their way to another place, and those who can leave will. It's going to be a personal decision where they want to perform."
As you can imagine, these comments were not particularly well received by those who view the morale of musicians as being even a halfway important part of an orchestra's artistic and fiscal success.
I stayed up late a couple nights last week writing a few essays about those two quotes. You can dig them out of my blog if you want. They made the rounds nationally. Mainly they consist of me pressuring management to admit publicly that it will be very difficult to heighten artistry if Minnesota faces a high turnover rate in the next few years. (As of right now, they're still claiming they'll be able to raise artistry while simultaneously struggling with high turnover and demoralization. Have fun with that, management!) I get the feeling I might be screaming at a brick wall, but hey. I tried. It's the best I can do.
The musicians of both orchestras are organizing free concerts in the next few weeks, ostensibly to thank the public for their support, but I imagine also to court goodwill. On 16 September at 4pm the musicians of the Minnesota Orchestra will be playing at the Lake Harriet Bandshell in Minneapolis. Orchestra violist Sam Bergman will host. Details available here. On 2 October at 7:30pm the musicians of the SPCO will be giving a free concert at Macalester College. Minnesota institution Garrison Keillor will be hosting this show. Details here.
I know this will sound totally ridiculous, but despite the geyser of bad news this week, I'm feeling bizarrely hopeful. Maybe it's a bad case of Gingrichian delusion; I don't know. But I'm getting the sense that more and more people are asking vitally important questions we've left unasked and unanswered for far too long. Who is really in charge of our orchestras? What credentials should decision-makers have? Who should have what powers? How should the world of business and philanthropy intersect with the world of artistic excellence? When budgets are tight and salaries need to be cut, what inexpensive efforts can management and musicians take to respect one another? Yes, this is a time of flux and change and very possibly grave danger for many orchestras. Yes, many many tears have been shed and no doubt will be shed. Many sleepless nights will be had. And the situation in the Twin Cities will certainly get much worse before it gets better. But these questions, and others like them, needed to be asked. Badly. And I'm beginning to think we needed a few crises to shake us up and make more people ask them.
Either that, or I've gone totally completely insane from blogging so much lately. That could very well be, too.
Keep those prayers and positive thoughts coming. We need every single one.
More next weekend.Tweet
By Laurie Niles
September 14, 2012 13:10
One of my youngest students was getting a bit bored with "Twinkle." Parents and teachers can attest to this common phenomenon. "Twinkle" is the first tune that many students, especially Suzuki students, learn, and it has five variations. They are learning some 45 skills in the process of learning Twinkle, and the whole endeavor can take a long time.
Very often it helps to go "sideways" instead of "forward," at this point. In other words, instead of going ahead with songs that require new skills, stay at the same level for a while and learn a lot of songs at that level. This gives the student a chance to build their foundation and repeat simple patterns, without getting bored. Also, the fact that they are playing a lot of songs helps them feel a sense of progress.
While there are many books out there which can serve this function, I'd like to share a book I've recently used that my youngest students have enjoyed. It's called 90 Favorite Songs, Classical Melodies, and Fiddle Tunes, written by violinist Lisa Berman. I had picked up several of her books while at the Suzuki Association of the Americas Conference in June in Minneapolis, where she is also based.
Suzuki's idea, in his first book, was to teach children folk songs that would come easily because they were simple and familiar. Lisa's book is full of very common kids' songs, most of which my students find to be very familiar: The Muffin Man, The Wheels on the Bus, The More We Get Together, Taps, Clementine, Simple Gifts, The Itsy Bitsy Spider, If You're Happy and You Know It, Oh Susannah, When the Saints Go Marching In, Star Spangled Banner, Yankee Doodle, Turkey in the Straw, Danny Boy, and Theme from Beethoven Symphony No. 9.
One can teach these songs by rote without listening to recordings, as the students already know them well. And if they don't, then pick another song -- there are more than 90.
Lisa has written and produced entire line of products all under the name Simply Violin. The materials fit the name: they are visually and conceptually simple, and thus easy to understand and use. For example, Lisa told me that she hired someone who designed signs for emergency use -- in other words, signs that could be read very quickly and easily -- to design her Circle of Fifths chart for Simply Violin. (I got a dozen postcard-sized ones and gave them to my students, instructing them to post them next to their beds and gaze at them while falling asleep…)
Other books by Lisa include a scale book with one, two and three octaves; a book of 40 easy fiddle tunes appropriate for a student in about Suzuki Book 2-3; also a more advanced fiddle book, a sacred tunes book and a Christmas book. All her books listed and described on this page.
As I said, there are a variety of books one can use to supplement beginning methods, but I just wanted to share this one, as its straightforward presentation and plentiful familiar songs make it so easy to use. Thanks, Lisa!Tweet
By Laurie Niles
September 14, 2012 10:22
And you were wondering what movie to watch on this Friday night? Look what I found, in full, on YouTube! It's the wonderful 1939 Samuel Goldwyn movie that features legendary violinist Jascha Heifetz. And yes, it's one of those movies that makes you sigh and say, "They don't make 'em like they used to!"
Get your popcorn:
Emerson String Quartet's Larry Dutton's words of wisdom, as featured in Gramophone Magazine in September, 2012By Emerson String Quartet
September 14, 2012 07:56
My advice to any aspiring string quartet player, or chamber musician is to strive to be the strongest instrumentalist you can be. You should be able to play concerti, sonatas, solo Bach....you name it. If you have those skills at your fingertips, as it were, you can offer that back to your ensemble, which only strengthens the whole. An ensemble is only as strong as its weakest link.
By Andrew Lukonis
September 13, 2012 17:08
There are moments in life that no words in the tongues of men could ever articulate. If these moments could be transposed into a piece of music, it would be the most beautiful, inspiring, and loving sound to ever flow through the audible vibrations of your ears. You could hold this music in your heart forever and it could sustain you for the rest of your days.
This is probably the shortest blog I will ever write. And if it was to be the last, I'd be an eternally happy man.
Thank you for taking part in the GSYO auditions.
You have been accepted into the GSYO Youth Philharmonic Ensemble. The level of talent displayed at auditions this year was very high, and all of our conductors are really looking forward to this season!"Tweet
By Laurie Niles
September 13, 2012 13:27
Last weekend I found myself at the sold-out Hollywood Bowl, along with a crowd of more than 17,000 people who had gathered for the Los Angeles Philharmonic's performance of music by Tchaikovsky.
With my ears still ringing from the death gongs sounding last week over the world's financially floundering symphony orchestras, I felt invigorated by this huge crowd of classical music fans and the celebratory feeling of the evening. And in fact, this was the second sold-out night of this performance!
Certainly, this was the kind of concert that everyone loves: all works by Tchaikovsky, including pieces from the Nutcracker and Swan Lake ballets, with ballet dancers and the lovely voices of the Los Angeles Children's Chorus (yes, including my son's voice). Then came the 1812 Overture, complete with fireworks and members of the University of Southern California band, who marched onto stage in their Trojan uniforms to help blast out the very end of the piece.
It was a show, for certain! Conductor Bramwell Tovey told the audience that, if this was their first time seeing a performance of the 1812 Overture, "then count it off your 100 Things to Do in Classical Music Before You Die." If not, "How are you doing on the rest of the list"?
More to the point of this blog, where is the rest of the list? We must make it! While many of us are performers and teachers, I mean this list to be for our friends with an interest in classical music, for our audience. What are the most wonderful things that a person, who may not be a musician, can experience in classical music over a lifetime?
Please contribute your ideas, I certainly need your help! I've started it with a few ideas, and when we have 100, I'll make it into a nice PDF/permanent blog for us all to use!
100 Things To Do in Classical Music Before You Die
We have to make this list, and I need your help. I will get us started:
1. See a live, outdoor performance of Pyotr Tchaikovsky's 1812 Overture.
2. Go to a Handel's Messiah sing-along (whether you sing or not!)
3. See a concert at Carnegie Hall in New York
4. See a concert at Disney Hall in Los Angeles
5. Watch at least a few of Leonard Bernstein's Young People's Concerts
6. Attend a master class
7. See Gustavo Dudamel conduct a live concert
8. Go to a concert at the Aspen Music Festival in Colorado
9. Buy season tickets to your local symphony orchestra's concerts
10. Go to Salzburg, Austria and celebrate Mozart's life and birth in some kind of very touristy manner.
11. See the Wagner's Ring Cycle. (or not, if you think it's just really racist)
12. See a big performance of Beethoven's 9th Symphony, complete with choir and vocal soloists.
13. See the Nutcracker Ballet -- and take a child with you!
14. See a Stradivarius or Guarneri del Gesu violin in person, or better yet, play one!
By Emily Grossman
September 13, 2012 01:51
(I don't really even have guilt-free time to post this entry.)
As soon as I'd expressed my grumblings about lack of collaborating musicians, the dam broke, and in the space of a week, I felt the pummeling of so many venues, I wondered if I'd over-committed: Brahms horn trio. Bruch, 8 pieces for clarinet and viola. Mozart K 304 with Garrett. Rehearsals commenced every day, sending me off with a care package of late night munchies, to be mulled and processed with the enthusiasm of a dog with his evening bone. I was in heaven.
Then, on Tuesday, the Anchorage Symphony called and asked if I'd join them for their upcoming concert on the 22nd. The repertoire, Latin American themed, struck me as mostly unfamiliar. But included was an original arrangement of the West Side Story suite, for orchestra and string quartet, composed by our meistro Randy Fleischer. Ah, the intimately familiar and much endeared West Side Story...
(No one but my dog saw me jumping around the house to the message on my machine that spoke of such a wondrous opportunity.)
This leaves me a little over a week to surmount a skyscraper of difficult orchestral material. Only the likes of Superman would leap such tall buildings in a single bound. Only the likes of me feels like Superman today.
By Andrew Sords
September 10, 2012 20:57
Tis the start of a new season - no, not an equinox, but a concert season. So much has happened already this calendar year that my mind is swirling trying to keep it organized. As I write this listening to Julia Fischer's "Bach Concerti" album, I'm thankful for much that has happened. I had a myriad of touring - Mexico, Canada, eastern Europe, London, Alaska, Australia, and crisscrossing the United States. I played several new concerti (including the Brahms double and Schumann), worked with fantastic colleagues, and did some memorable interviews. One regret - I didn't join my grandparents at the family home in Ontario this summer. You see, my grandfather died very suddenly on August 21st, following an exciting summer that included my grandparents touring Europe and vacationing at our favorite locale - Lake Penage.
Robert Sords - husband, father, and grandfather - was many things. Patriarch, strict, devoted, generous, sometimes ornery...those come to mind. What else comes to mind is a man who loved attending my concerts and seeing various successes. Bob, as I called him, taught me how to drive a boat, park a car, and be pretty persuasive in business. As the oldest of his eight grandchildren, I loved seeing the various relationships we all had with him - all pretty special, but none held a candle to the 62 years of marriage to my grandmother. They did everything together - the orchestra chorus, gardening, golf, meals out, vacations, and attending various athletic events, concerts, and graduations. I have some pretty spectacular memories of spending summers in Canada with them - bunking up in their room, sauna conversations, fishing, and puttering around the lake. Needless to say, of all of my performances this year, the most difficult one, no question, was playing two Ave Maria's at his funeral (Caccini and Schubert). A special man - one minute stern, the next, chuckling. I miss him very much.
It's amazing how as life progresses - priorities change, little things don't matter as much, and the big picture comes into focus. Career-wise, that is certainly the case this season and with moving forward. I am grateful for being booked up for the next 24 months, for the wonderful colleagues I am privileged to collaborate with, and focusing on repertoire and venues that are important to me. It's a newfound focus - certainly different from five years ago. Perhaps I will direct interviewers to this particular blog, and then most of their (pertinent and appropriate) questions would be answered.
Yes, this blog was more somber and vulnerable than is my norm - and perhaps reveals some of the craziness that has ensued this year. I am a firm believer in life experiences guiding art and the creative process. If that is to be believed - then the curveballs thrown this year only serve to illuminate the future with more clarity.Tweet
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