Mile High Aspirations

Mile High Aspirations

One more day before the National Performing Arts Convention begins, but there’s already quite a bit going on. As I sit typing this in the middle of the exhibit hall, folks around me are madly setting up their wares for what promises to be a very heavily-trafficked area over the next four days.

The last 24 hours were my one opportunity to explore the Mile High City. Once NPAC gets under way, there will be precious little time for the world beyond the convention center (except getting to and from NPAC events taking place elsewhere). The area immediately surrounding the convention center—like all-too-many urban downtowns in the U.S.—does not have a lot of local character, but a bit of wandering off the beaten path quickly pays off.

The Denver Art Museum, which now boasts a wild asymmetrical new building designed by Daniel Libeskind, which alone is worth a visit. Once inside the largest collection of Native American art awaits—everything from rare 19th century relics and an iikaah (a traditional Navaho sand painting) to baskets weaved in the early 1900s by Elizabeth Hickox, a Karuk innovator who revolutionized the medium. I was particularly drawn to several of Towa native Mateo Romero’s provocative Bonnie and Clyde paintings. The Museum also has a solid contemporary art collection offering work by the late Denver-based modernist Vance Kirkland and a generous supply of Clyfford Still abstractions—they’re opening a new space in 2010 to house hundreds of paintings from his estate.

Last night we found Denver’s oldest continuously operating restaurant and saloon, the Buckhorn Exchange (established 1893), where we ate rattlesnake dip, buffalo, and elk accompanied by Buffalo Bill Cocktails (bourbon and apple juice) as a dozen taxidermized antelopes stared down at us. We never got to meet Elizabeth—the ghost who haunts the place ever since her husband-to-be was shot as she was standing on an altar at a nearby church—but were regaled with stories about her.

But much as I’m intrigued by all this history, the National Performing Arts Convention is about the future. The state of the arts is at a critical juncture, but there is hope if all of the constituencies represented here this week can reach a consensus and initiate plans both to address the problems we are facing as well as better articulate what makes us a significant demographic in this country.

This page should be treated as an open forum to anyone (both folks attending NPAC and others who are not able to attend) to voice their thoughts about what the organizations representing the performing arts in the United States should be talking about this week.

NewMusicBox provides a space for those engaged with new music to communicate their experiences and ideas in their own words. Articles and commentary posted here reflect the viewpoints of their individual authors; their appearance on NewMusicBox does not imply endorsement by New Music USA.

38 thoughts on “Mile High Aspirations

  1. sarahcahill

    Darn it, Frank, I thought this column was going to be about you joining the Mile High Club! Oh well, never mind… still very interesting, and great to hear you’re having a good time in Denver…

  2. philmusic

    “.. to voice their thoughts about what the organizations representing the performing arts in the United States should be talking about this week…”

    A glance at the artistic side of this conference didn’t turn up anything that concerns my work. So here is my list:

    The status quo.

    Blogging strategies for maintaining distance and power. (How to talk down to people with out them knowing it)

    Domesticating the Avant-garde.

    New music, and without those pesky composers types.

    Multiculturalism without poor folks.

    Composer makeovers!

    Education lip service! or why there is more money in replacing k-12 music teachers than in supporting them.

    Music smuzik–Its all in the description! Artistic editorial you’ve got to spin it to win it.

    Why are celebrities and glamour still so important?

    Why appearances are reality.

    Whose opinions can we safely ignore?

    Why gate keepers make the best artistic leaders.

    Sonic prejudice and how to maintain it.

    The uneducated audience a problem or an opportunity?

    Phil Fried, U of Lilliput, 12 centimeter beer run!

  3. rtanaka

    My main schtick is the introduction (or re-introduction, really) of improvisation within music school educational systems…it’s really quite a shame that a lot of music students go through their entire curriculum without having ever improvised. Even cadenzas nowadays are fully written out…

    I’ve heard numerous stories both directly and indirectly that institutions are generally pretty resistant toward the activity and attempts at creating programs in that area have failed on more than one occasion, forcing many performers and composers to jump towards other mediums such as jazz and pop. I can’t imagine this ever being a good thing for anybody or music as a whole.

  4. William Osborne

    I saw this on Colin Holter’s latest report from Denver:

    “In fact, kowtowing to audience-development pressure in the way you compose may actually damage your work’s reception: Listeners, especially listeners under 65, can smell inauthenticity a mile away.”

    That’s an interesting statement. Are people over 65 generally more stupid or less aware or less honest than other people?

    Colin adds:

    ”Why do you think most baby boomers would rather shell out for a Springsteen concert than a lukewarm orchestral premiere by a composer commissioned on the basis of how few people his music will offend?”

    Most people “shell out” for Springsteen because he has a massive industry behind him in a country whose cultural life is strongly dominated by business interests. This is not true everywhere. In continental Europe, popular music plays a far less dominant role and classical music holds its own very well – whether the music is lukewarm or experimental or whatever.

    Last year 920,000 people shelled out money to watch the Met’s high definition transmissions in movie theaters. They all paid more than what a Springsteen CD usually costs. And this in a society where few people have the opportunity to develop a taste for opera to begin with.

    In Europe there is a year-round, full season opera house for about every one million people. By that standard America would have about 300 fulltime, year-round houses. The tickets in Europe are subsidized and cost about one-fifth those of the Met, and about a fourth of those in San Francisco and Chicago. In Germany, there are 80 opera houses that present about 7000 opera performances a year. A per capita comparison would give America about 26,000 opera performances per year.

    As the Met high-def cinema broadcasts illustrate, a massive opera public could be developed in America. If close to a million attend those broadcasts in the first year of their existence, imagine what would happen if we had 300 opera houses where people could go see real LIVE opera at a reasonable price. Many cities would end up like Munich and Vienna, where they often have to use a lottery system to distribute the tickets.

    Anyway, there are many factors that shape Springsteen’s market, and they are not all based on freedom of choice.

    William Osborne

  5. Colin Holter

    That’s an interesting statement.

    No it’s not. It’s just a statement you don’t like. Voters over 65 went by almost ten percentage points for Bush over Kerry in 2004.

    Funny you should mention hi-def Met broadcasts, though, because I’ve heard a few regional opera presenters at NPAC complain that hi-def Met broadcasts (insipid mid-act interviews and all) are eating their lunches. Instead of competing with the local lyric or civic, they now have to compete against the Met – and furthermore, these broadcasts help “trick” consumers into thinking that they’ve gone to the opera rather than to the movies. A filmed opera and a stage opera are two qualitatively different beasts, but the former can masquerade convincingly, like olestra, as the latter. On the other hand, I bet if they started showing old productions with Bastianini, Corelli, et. al., I’d change my tune.

  6. William Osborne

    I agree completely with your comments about the effects of the Met broadcasts. Others might argue that they will increase people’s desire to have more live opera in their locality. I’m not sure that is what the end effect will be. It is also interesting that there is no NPAC session formally devoted to the serious problems the USA has with public arts funding.

    As for ageism, of course I disagree. And it is hardly the first example in your writings. Flame me if you will, but I think someone finally needs to voice an objection.
    It is one thing to celebrate youthful perspectives, which are happily a focus here on NMBx, but another to deride people with a wide brush because they are elderly. It is, in fact, interesting that the comment passed by the Editors.

    William Osborne

  7. philmusic

    while there is still time…

    I was just at a panel discussion out here and the following points came up..

    Why is the importance of the arts ignored by the mainstream (TV and print) media and what can we do to change this?

    Since the mainstream media is dropping its arts and “classical” music critics and arts reporting in general what can be done to bring us back into focus?


  8. William Osborne

    Over the last few year, a notable number of papers have reduced their arts coverage. As a result they have also released quite a few arts journalists. Several large papers have followed the same pattern, so I wonder if there might be some overriding factors. Here are a few possibilities, though I can’t be certain about any of them:

    1. The definitions of high art are under challenge and rapidly changing. The respect we have for the so called high arts has been eroded, with a corresponding loss of coverage in the papers. (This seems to be part of a larger trend of postmodern thought that has shown both positive and negative sides.)

    2. From the late seventies onward, there has been a strong push to reduce government and to privatize its services. (The technical economic term for this is “neo-liberalism.) This has led to a wider sensibility that activities that cannot be commercialized do not have a place in society. Artistic expression that cannot be commoditized has thus lost value, and hence coverage in the media.

    3. The corporate media has moved quite a bit to the right over the last 30 years, while the arts world continues to lean left. This gap in perspectives might have led to less media support for the arts – especially of the more experimental or progressive sort.

    4. The neo-liberal economic policies of the last thirty years have created a society in which market forces increasingly dominate our lives. Businesses are increasingly forced to think only in terms of profit. Since the high arts do not bring in large revenue for most media businesses, they have reduced arts coverage. The same economic philosophy has eroded the concept of the media as a socially oriented service that used to cover the arts as a contribution to the community.

    In any case, it seems like there are often larger, philosophic, political, and economic forces that shape societies in ways that are difficult to observe. To get at the root of the loss of arts coverage might require taking a larger view and creating broader philosophic changes in the way we think about politics, economics, and culture. And isn’t effecting such change pretty close to our work and responsibilities as artists?

    The arts still dominate the European print and electronic media, because Europeans organize their societies in a way quite different from America. I think we could learn much from them, even if it will be a very slow process of change.

    Molly has a very interesting blog comment that I think is related to these ideas. See:

    William Osborne

  9. philmusic

    Colin, I’m not sure what context them’s opera companies told you that the MET was mess’in with them but overall regional music theater is doing great! Ticket sales are up.

    I wonder, and I could be wrong, that this has something to do with their not commissioning new works or taking on composers or risking trying new singers?

    Some folks, even in leadership positions, like to complain because everyone needs more don’t they? Complaining can also be a way of handling folks by changing the subject to where to they are more comfortable.

    Now if them opera folks say that the MET’s focus on the visual aspects of the art instead of on pure singing and fach, or that their live telecasts with their ability for super close ups, were too informing their staging to the detriment of the audience–that would be different.

    Then again it is also an opportunity.


  10. jchang4

    I’m really glad that we have this great NPAC thing now. Based on some of the blogging that the conference has received thus far, the findings/conclusions don’t appear to be all that earth-shattering (the arts have more in common than we thought?, marketing/packaging should be rethought?, arts schools don’t prepare you for the workforce?, etc.?, really? is that surprising? I’m more curious to hear what they hope to do about all this… ), but I am grateful that people across all sectors of the arts are getting together to look at things from a bigger picture. It is all too easy to get swept up in a bubble, without so much as a thought to what’s going on outside… So, bravo to that.

    Honestly, I hope this means that NMBx-ers are going to finally start talking about what REALLY matters. Sorry if that hurts anyone’s feelings but, damnit, it’s true.

  11. Somebody

    Well, my wife got me a bottle of Pinot Grigio for Fathers’ Day. It was great. And, the NPAC, well it is so damn artistic, so artistic I can’t afford to go. It is like those expensive seats at that orchestra gala, just so- intimidating-expensive. It has got to have a logo. It has a must have a web site. It has plentia-tudes of bloggers. And it has colin@newmusicbox.chatter saying things like “We don’t have to change anything about the way we write music–we just have to change the way we talk about it.” Yes Colin, it is like a MacBurger being server with a chatty waiter. MacNew, MacMusic, but never MacImproved, it just needs a bit of MacChatter. Just verbal seduction, forget those tonal and rhythm patterns, lets work on those words and logos. Ah, the newmusicbox is like a 250 thousand dollar NEA funded popular teenager. It has high tech words, logos, Ms. Cossa, and not a speck of muse. Hail to the superior fools that drink the Cool-Aid of NPAC. But, I am sticking to wine. And bless my ars, I hope I spelled everything right for Bill.

    And, the best is the fact that it is so wet blankets like myself can’t e-respond. Composers at a performing convention— it is like those composers you can never get in touch with that are listed on the AMC site’s library. It is just so damn grant–granty. Here’s to Italy’s wine producers! Love. Love. Here is to the corporate music performers of America, they are so damn artistic, they need to be, no must be at a NEA convention, rubbing elbows- rubbing and rubbing those elbows –

  12. jchang4

    Re: corporate convention
    I agree that there is a certain chumminess about NPAC, but this is true of many (all?) conferences. I also agree that for an organization that claims/hopes to be forward looking, it’s pretty shameful that they don’t have proper coverage of events. Has no-one over there heard of Qik?!

  13. William Osborne

    I agree with Josephine’s thoughts about the seeming superficiality of the findings/solutions provided by NPAC. We’ve heard those ideas for years, and for the most part, they aren’t solving the problems arts organizations face.

    So many of the NPAC ideas revolve around marketing strategies, and what might be termed a MBA mentality. I wonder if the MBA approach to arts management and funding is appropriate. We certainly need to operate organizations with sound financial policies, but we don’t stop there. We rely on business models that try to commoditize art forms that are not commoditizable.

    Don’t we need leaders who understand that culture is a very broad and deep social phenomenon that goes far beyond marketing strategies? Don’t we need leaders who are more versed in topics such as education, politics, and communal identity than business administration? We wouldn’t send a plumber to do the work of a mechanic, so why do we send MBAs to manage arts organizations? In short, how similar are the working models between businesses and arts organizations?

    One serious aspect of this problem is that when we commoditize the arts we must also depoliticize them. Some political views might alienate customers. One of the sessions at APAC, for example, was entitled “Radical Ideas from Beyond the Border.” One of the speakers was supposed to be Madhusree Dutta who founded Majlis, a center for rights discourse and multi-cultural initiatives in Mumbai, India. Her presentation included a film which, as Molly puts it in her blog, “contained some material (related to Bush and the current wars) that she was asked to remove. It seems she instead declined to attend.” A political statement that was an inherent part of an artistic creation was not allowed. People staged silent protests during the session by holding up signs that said “Where’s Madhusree Dutta?” And apparently NPAC did nothing to clarify this troubling situation.

    This sort of censorship in American art is nothing new. To put it in a polemical way, after the Mapelthrope scandal in 1996, the NEA became the Matthew Shepard of government appropriations. Jesse Helms and Newt Gingrich tied the NEA to a fence post outside of Washington D.C. and beat it to death.

    I also noticed that NPAC did not have a single session devoted to our country’s serious problems with arts funding, even though the NEA director, Dana Gioia was in attendance and participating in some of the sessions. Would a session about increasing public arts funding have also been too political? Would it have been too outside of the MBA model with its focus on business which naturally tends toward wealthy private donors instead of public funding? I noticed a session called “Trustees Night”, presumably where the weathly patricians of arts funding could get together, but no session for people like “Americans for the Arts” or the “American League of Orchestras” who work our political system for more public funding. Why the one-sidedness?

    Like Josephine says, we seem to be missing something in the larger picture.

    William Osborne

  14. rtanaka

    Marketing seems to be a necessary evil nowadays. Even more so now, since more and more musicians seem to be aware that institutional support is waning. I just listened to a NPR documentary on how young composers are now turning to self-production and self-promotion, making circles among friends as a way to promote their work. They were very honest about how difficult it was, and that it would probably take years before the process might yield something of a sustainable result. The idea of going to conferences and making contacts is actually the more “traditional” way of doing things, but it can still work if you talk to the right kinds of people at the right time, granted you have some similarity in aesthetic outlooks. The other alternative is to create circles among your peers and hope that someone someday will have a break.

    Either way, I think it’s important for students to understand the realities of how the art world works, and that building a career is a very slow, gradual process, filled with a lot of ups and downs. At this point I honestly feel that I my education in the arts was sorely lacking in terms of how to apply my skills in a practical manner. If you have honest conversations with people who have been out of school for a while (and have not yet given up on doing art) you’ll probably hear very similar sentiments.

    Not saying that everything should be done in the name of wealth, but I do think that it’s important for musicians to at least have a basic understand of how economics work. I’ve already witnessed a number of performance locations close down because it seemed like whoever was running it didn’t seem to understand how to manage their institutions. Unfortunately ideals and intelligence alone isn’t enough to put bread on the table.

    But if you really want to look at the bigger picture of things, it’s basically that justifying increased arts spending is incredibly difficult during times of war. It’s kind of pointing out the obvious, perhaps, but if we want more funding we need more money, and that money needs to come from somewhere. Hopefully things will start getting somewhat better after this November’s election — the past decade have been disasters by any given standard, both politically and fiscally.

  15. William Osborne

    Even though marketing is important, it is long-term educational initiatives that create the most interest in classical music. China and Venezuela provide empirical proof. And even education will do no good if we do not have locally based performing arts groups presenting work at accessible prices. Unfortunately, these initiative can only be effected by governments, so it will be a long haul in the United States. In the meantime, expect to see a lot of groping around with flashy ideas that haven’t worked and will continue to not work.

    In any case, if we want to argue for better marketing, we need some concrete examples. Which orchestras have significantly increased their public through marketing? How did they do it?

    If the LA Phil can’t make a profit, how can we? And if even studiously mainstream orchestral composers like Corigliano, Higdon, and Dougherty can’t live from their art, how can we expect to?

    It’s true the war has drained the public coffers. In the transition from the Clinton to the Bush administration we went from the largest budget surplus in American history to the largest deficit in only two years. Jimmy Carter has said this was intentional and designed to prevent the development of a more socially oriented democracy.

    In 2004 I made some calculations. With only one percent of the military’s then $396 billion budget, we could have 132 opera houses lavishly funded at $30 million apiece. (That much funding would put them on par with the best opera houses in the world, and likely lead to forms of expression more distinctly American.)

    The same sum could support 264 spoken-word theaters at $15 million each. It could subsidize 198 full-time, year round world-class symphony orchestras at $20 million each. Or it could give 79,200 composers, painters and sculptors a yearly salary of $50,000 each. Remember, that’s only one percent of the military budget. Imagine what five percent would do. These examples awaken us to the Orwellian realities of our country and how different it could be. Given our wealth, talent, and educational resources, we are losing our chance to be the Athens of the modern world.

    And now the military budget is approaching a half trillion dollars per year. And the costs of the current wars are allocated separately and reach into the trillions. We are being screwed, to say the least. Regardless of who wins in November, there will not be significant change in our overall economic structures. Our highly destructive and dysfunctional military-industrial complex will not be dismantled. In contrast to all other industrial countries in the world, the US government will continue to neglect the arts. New hope, indeed.

    William Osborne

  16. rtanaka

    I’ve heard the “take money from the military and put it into the arts” argument a number of times now, and while I don’t disagree with the sentiment, the real problem is how to get to that point where our political leaders would feel inclined to reallocate the budget in such a way. This is a time of war and everybody is paranoid, so how do we justify putting money into a bunch of people making a bunch of sound on stage?

    I think the question is what is it exactly that we do, as artists, that makes society a better place? There’s often an underlying assumption among us to think that art is good for its own sake, but this can be dangerous because that sentiment doesn’t hold much water for those who aren’t directly involved. To justify using public funds, we have to be able to articulate our reasons for doing what we do for the public good. We don’t have much control over the external circumstances of how the world develops, but at least this is something we can think about on our own end.

  17. Dennis Bathory-Kitsz

    About nothing else in research does our government ask ‘what makes society a better place’. It asks ‘what advances our political or policy goals’. At one time, the government found modernism appropriate to fund (such as the US founding of the famous Darmstadt courses). Today it avoids funding the arts because they are out of sync with those goals, especially today when U.S. political and policy goals are almost entirely corporatized.

    If we present ourselves in some sort of chintzy marketing schemes (and the marketing schemes of the arts are pretty pitiful), then we are viewed precisely as badly as we market. Avoid marketing and emphasize what we do — which is often at odds with both corporate and government goals — and at least the integrity is maintained.

    We have our first interview today in the new Kalvos & Damian series, show #539 after a hiatus of 33 months. It’s Art Jarvinen. He’s artistically credible and moderately successful. What would you ask him about this issue?


  18. dalgas

    Incidentally, Just back from NPAC is Judith Lang Zaimont, who on her Sequenza21 blog obligingly leaks the preliminary report on that U.S. composer survey that was up here a while ago (that may have given a few people problems or pause, but 1300+ composers is not too shabby a sample):

  19. mryan

    I was able to attend NPAC through an Opera America scholarship. I wasn’t really sure what to expect or what I’d get out of the conference, but in the end it was a great experience and I am really grateful to have been able to attend.

    10 Personal Highlights:

    1. I got to see several familiar faces again, including Frank Oteri and Alex Shapiro

    2. I bumped into Kirke Mecham and got a chance to talk to him about his two operas, the first of which (Tartuffe) I sang the role of Orgon in grad school.

    3. Met a lot of people and I wouldn’t normally have met through the caucus sessions. It was a very stimulating experience. One of the people was Alice Parker (of Parker/Shaw fame). She was very graceful and well-spoken.

    4. Saw Nixon in China, something I’ve wanted to do ever since I learned about the opera. I wasn’t entirely sold on the third act, but really was amazed and actually moved to tears by many moments throughout the opera.

    5. Was grateful that the final caucus session was organized by state. Again I got to meet some people in my neighborhood that I normally wouldn’t have had an opportunity to meet, especially the education folks at Utah opera.

    6. The caucuses discussed many important issues. Diversity, arts awareness and education were brought to the fore. I was a little dissapointed that something about the artists themselves didn’t make it in to the national agenda, but c’est la vie.

    7. Irony: the only person to actually ask me to send them some music without any prompting was a foriegner; specifically, a visiting orchestral conductor from south america. He explained to me that although they wanted the audience to come, they didn’t have to rely on ticket sales to keep going and therefore, they could program what they wanted to. That was a real eye-opener.

    8. A singer/massous wants me to help her create a line of CDs to tune the shakras of her clientele, something minimalistic . . . hmm, we’ll see.

    9. I met an old college friend who played for the premier of my first publicly performed song cycle as well as the workshop for my first opera. It was great to brush up on an old acquaintance. He’s now conducting a choir at a Texas university and I asked if I could send him some choral music.

    10. Enjoyed many sessions, but was particularly inspired by the general session with Jim Collins. He suggested that we not try to follow a business model in the arts, because a business model is one of averages. If we want the arts to be great, we must follow a road of discipline and excellence, not averages. Excerpts from his book on this subject are at

    I could list more, but I’m lucky if you read that much. Anyway, it was a good experience and I’m glad to have gone. The conference did a lot toward recharging my batteries and gave me some really good ideas to try and implement.

    All the best,
    M Ryan Taylor

  20. William Osborne

    For a short time after 9/11 there was renewed interest in cultural diplomacy. One example was the short lived organization in Washington called Americans for International Arts and Cultural Exchange. They stressed the value of cultural diplomacy for building better international relations. They had to discontinue due to a lack of funding. They were connected to Americans for the Arts which absorbed their work when they disbanded. You can read about the initiative on the website of Americans for the Arts:

    The site has several other links that might be of interest.

    There is also a really good section on the NAJP site about cultural diplomacy that has links to a number of good PDF articles:

    It is perhaps difficult to believe, but I think In the world’s eyes, no one speaks better for America than its serious artists throughout a number of disciplines

    During that short period when cultural diplomacy was a hot topic, the historian, Richard Pells, had an article about it in the Chronicle of Higher Education, but it is not longer on line.

    The military budget is about 450 billion. If one percent of that were turned over to cultural diplomacy, I think we would get a greater return on that sum. That would be 4.5 billion dollars. In fact, with that much money put into sincere, intelligent international arts initiatives I think we would have the world in the palm of our hands.

    I am not sure why such obviously useful efforts are not attempted. We tend to think that America has been failed by its politicians, but I sometimes think it has been failed even worse by its intellectuals. Why are our intellectual leaders not making sure useful ideas like these are carried through by our government? It is as if we are now paying the price for our indifference and insularity. In that sense, I think NPAC was a very positive gesture. Among other things, and in spite of that silenced artist, it reminded us we are a community, and that we should raise our voices.

    William Osborne

  21. sniggleron

    And what, 2 of you were actually in attendance? It’s easy to piss and moan from the comfort of your own home, isn’t it?

    Well poor you for the world not taking notice of what you would have addressed at a conference. Poor you for having arts administrators care enough about the arts in general that they devote their lives to supporting and nourishing the arts, very often as they neglect their own careers as artists.

    Whining about what didn’t happen and what should have happened is so easy. I’ll be interested in seeing the national conference you pull together.

  22. Somebody

    Yes, criticism is just to easy. These arts administrators, they work tirelessly to produce a open and transparent music culture. So, damn open and transparent that the convention was placed in Denver, the land of the poor struggling composer. Why not NYC or DC?

    Whatever you say- don’t complain or whine about the state of the AMC and the ACF or Meet the Composer. These are organizations that are just so damn honest, they are just so damn good and perfect that no composer on earth should ever complain about the perfect composer support. The best thing ever, ever, ever-ever-ever about the AMC is that beautiful composer database. I can just search for the best composer ever, through list after list after list, and then, get in touch with that composer so easily.

    Would someone just shut down the AMC, the ACF , Meet the Composer, and this stupid web site and do something else with federal and state arts money. What good came of Colin at the convention, nothing. If anything, he promoted himself or he promoted the AMC not the actual member of the AMC. I am sure the AMC staff worked so damn hard at promoting their composer database and the absolute nobodies listed on it. AMC staff… arts promotion, conventions, when will the pseudo-music-promotion crap ever stop!

  23. Colin Holter

    What good came of Colin at the convention, nothing. If anything, he promoted himself or he promoted the AMC not the actual member of the AMC.

    As usual, I can only make an educated guess at what cbakalian’s fragmentary, apoplectic ravings are intended to convey. If I understand him correctly, he’s accusing me of failing to represent his interests at NPAC. Fair enough – but I didn’t promote my own work with much zest either. I was mainly there to document the proceedings and get a peel inside the calculating minds of arts administrators, who made up most of the convention’s population.

  24. philmusic

    Actually, I attended this conference a few years back- to see the undersecretary of Education talk about “No Child Left Behind” and its supposed support for the arts.

    Well ya see on a web page somewhere buried on their government website they do say that the arts are a fine thing.


    If the Principals cut the arts programs or think that an after school program of 10 violinists is an arts program -well that too bad.

    Phil Fried

  25. philmusic

    say what?

    By philmusic –

    Actually, I attended this conference a few years back- to see the undersecretary of Education talk about “No Child Left Behind” and its supposed support for the arts.

    Well ya see on a web page somewhere buried on their government website they do say that the arts are a fine thing.


    If the Principals cut the arts programs or think that an after school program of 10 violinists is an arts program -well thats too bad.

    Phil Fried

  26. rtanaka

    As usual, the problem lies in the fact that the people on the bottom rung always get the shaft in terms of how political realities play out. It[s quite remarkable when you look at how in any given field nowadays you can look at the income distribution and see that the top 5% are making the majority of the wealth that society provides, and a lot of the times it has almost nothing to do with talent or skill-level.

    Something is obviously awry when schools have enough money to buy flat-screen TVs and other kinds of novelties and toys while the teachers pay out-of-pocket just in order for their students to have textbooks to use. I suppose it’s a reflection of our society’s emphasis on appearances instead of substance…if all principals care about is how to cover their own hide, then I suppose what students are actually learning might come as a secondary importance.

  27. rtanaka

    Just checked the NPAC brochure — there’s some pretty good topics and workshops on there and it seems like for the most part the organization seems to at least be aware of the issues the art world is facing right now. Hope the discussions were fruitful…

    Although it seems like my improv agenda wasn’t really addressed, but I’m not all that surprised at this point. I just had a lesson with Mike Garson the other week and he told me that what I was interested in hasn’t quite reached the realm of the public sphere just yet, so not to expect too much institutional support. Having played in classical, jazz, and new music mediums, he attempted to create programs in the area of improvisation but was met with a lot of resistance from administrators who thought it would “freak out” the faculty and students.

    It seems like there’s growing interest in the activity though (like the CS/EP program at UCSD or the contemporary improv program at NEC) so maybe next time around there might be enough interest to put it in the agenda. It’s mainly what I do nowadays so a lot of people think I’m some kind of improv specialist, but ideally I’d like to see it integrated into music education programs as part of its core curriculum. I can’t really think of any other thing that develops musical intuition as well as an intimate familiarity with one’s instrument…

  28. Chris Becker

    Wow! What was that like? He seems like a very genuine cat – and I LOVE his playing.

    No one else really does what he does.

    Sorry…Bowie fanboy here…carry on…

  29. rtanaka

    Wow! What was that like? He seems like a very genuine cat – and I LOVE his playing.

    Due to financial reasons I can’t afford to take too many lessons at this point — I only had an hour and a half to milk him for all he was worth, so what I write here will be just first impressions. He made a killing doing work with pop artists, so he had an incredibly nice house with a state-of-the-art studio setup. But, as he said, he made his living doing studio work and gigs of a variety of different things. The improv thing within classical mediums he felt strongly about but he wasn’t “able to turn it into dollars and cents”, to paraphrase him. That’s the reality of things, I guess.

    You should probably check his myspace blog for what kind of person he is — kind of intense, but very earnest and honest kind of guy. Mike Garson’s Myspace I left the lesson with a positive impression because he was a straight-talker and I’m kind of into that sort of thing.

    I did manage to do a jam session with him for 2 pianos, though…I uploaded it on my site as well. Can you guess who’s who? Ok, I’m the one who threw in the folk melody towards the 2nd half…just had to. :)

  30. Chris Becker

    Hey, Ryan. I’ll check out the duet later today. Thanks.

    I’ve corresponded a little bit with Mike via his MySpace page.

    Trying to relate this back to the thread, I guess Mike Garson shows that there are no rules to making a living as a musician. You can – and maybe ultimately you have to cut your own path.

  31. rtanaka

    Trying to relate this back to the thread, I guess Mike Garson shows that there are no rules to making a living as a musician. You can – and maybe ultimately you have to cut your own path.

    That’s pretty much what he told me, and pretty much what the radio program on NPR was about. It seems like that’s the direction things are going in right now in the classical music world, at least if you’re doing anything contemporary. Though in a lot of ways that’s the way it’s always been in the pop world to begin with, actually…play some gigs, do some touring, sell CDs and merchandise, produce your own shows. None of these ideas are really new, but it’s only seen as being unusual now that classical musicians are partaking in it.

    There’s the romantic idea of the composer sitting in a room writing music all day, but I don’t know if that image has had any bearing in reality to begin with. Most composers throughout history has had a day job in one form or another, whether its teaching or being employed in some field unrelated to music. But then again, I see some footages of folk music traditions and most of the time the musicians are working along side with the rest of the village but happen to pick up the instrument and play during festive occasions when called for. In many ways that might be a more healthy attitude to take towards music in general — at least if you’re doing your art while you’re doing other things, then the music stays closer to life.

  32. Chris Becker

    “But then again, I see some footages of folk music traditions and most of the time the musicians are working along side with the rest of the village but happen to pick up the instrument and play during festive occasions when called for. In many ways that might be a more healthy attitude to take towards music in general — at least if you’re doing your art while you’re doing other things, then the music stays closer to life.”

    Mind if I frame this quote, Ryan?

  33. rtanaka

    Sure, go ahead…glad to hear that I’m not the only one who thinks this way. There’s sort of a stigma floating around that if you’re not devoting 100% of your life to art you’re somehow a lesser form of an artist, but lately I’ve been thinking that maybe working a job and doing art in your free time is how things were really meant to be. Ives even said that his music has helped his insurance business and visa versa…I feel the same way about my day job working as a librarian as well. It’s nothing to be ashamed about either way.

    Course, if you disagree, I’m not above receiving free money either. :)

  34. jchang4

    I agree that our mentality on music education, at least in the piano sector, appears to be unhealthily skewed towards trying to train people in a lifestyle that a vast majority of them will not be able to maintain. In other words, instead of trying to share a joy for music in our students, we are mostly trying to make them into virtuosos: participating in festivals/competitions, learning scales/arpeggios/etudes/technique, playing established repertoire, etc. A very rare few will actually become the next Lang Lang, so I think it’s pretty safe to assume that 100% of your students will be amateurs. And that’s ok.

    But what’s not ok, or what’s especially sad about the whole thing, is that most piano students quit when they hit high school for one reason or another, and they usually NEVER touch a piano again. Since they generally were not encouraged to attend concerts or to buy cds or really to love classical music… very little beyond the discipline that they gained from their virtuoso training carries on into the rest of their lives.

    I also think that this is part of the reason why we have a ridiculous supply of “professional” classical musicians. Some students who managed to get beyond the virtuoso training and actually enjoy the music end up studying it professionally at college and beyond. It gets a little complicated here… Ideas about “you should do what you love” come into play. It’s great to love classical music, but not everyone is built to make money with it. Hopefully those people will realize that it’s ok to not be a super star at it, that loving it is enough, and that you don’t necessarily have to devote your life to it just cuz you love it, and as a consequence starve to death :) Cuz we all need to eat too.

    “Do what you love” is a fantastically romantic idea, and there are people out there who will insist on making “quitters” feel like they’re “quitters,” (like Randy Pausch who says that the brick walls are there for “the other people”… you know, the “quitters”) but, come on, SOMEBODY’s got to do the other stuff that the economy needs to run, too.

  35. rtanaka

    In my experience, students quit playing because a lot of the times teachers and institutions fail to foster a deeper personal relationship between them an their music. For a lot of people, it’s really just a chore, something that they’re “supposed” to know and do.

    Sometimes in having discussions with some musicians, a lot of them do it simply because they happen to be good at it and they get egged on by their parents, peers, and institutions who give them support. Some of them will confess that they actually hate playing music and everything that it represents because it deprived them of a normal social life. Drug and alcohol abuse is fairly common, and I’ve known some people who destroyed themselves (or are currently doing this) in this way. But what does it matter, they play so well for those brief moments on stage, don’t they?

    I don’t envy people like Lang Lang, actually — he’s really a kind of caricature of classical stereotypes and the reason why he’s in the forefront to begin with is because people probably find some sort of perverse pleasure in watching someone play with such unhibited immaturity. You can sometimes see the faces of musicians behind him sort of rolling their eyes as he bangs away at the piano. Course with people’s short attention spans nowadays, it won’t be long before he’s forgotten and people move onto other things, and the comedown for that sort of thing can be fairly harsh. I mean, look at Britney Spears right now — wow, what a mess.

    The smarter thing to do is to just not to get caught up in all the hype.


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