Silence in the halls

A third symphony joined the ranks of the silenced- Chicago Symphony Orchestra went on strike this weekend. And, as always, both sides are telling wildly different tales- management's statement says they are going to give modest (as in $20 per musician per year) increase to salary while having musicians pay more on their health insurance (and other benefits). But the story seemed off, with an incredibly high average salary shown ($173, 000? really?) and an absurdly low amount paid for health coverage in general (5% cited, with an increase to 12%). They also berate the orchestra for wanting to many days off.

Chicago Symphony Musicians on the other hand are saying something quite different. How about not including the principle players, concertmaster, and musical director in your average salary. Those 12 people can really push it up, especially considering, say, the concertmaster can make upwards of 5x what a section player makes. Check out this out from '08/'09 filings. That does kinda skew things a bit. And don't even ask about musical directors...OY!

For those not in the know, the other two orchestras with empty halls are Indianapolis and Atlanta. Minnesota Orchestra is also in talks right now that are heading in the direction of Indianapolis and Atlanta.

In Indianapolis and Atlanta we are seeing pretty draconian methods- sharp cuts to pay meant to take hold immediately, sudden increases in cost of benefits, slashing the season, and cutting musicians. Indianapolis is even negotiating WITHOUT A CEO! Yep, still doing the CEO search after the abrupt departure in February. They waited till around July to do the search. Even more than that, I wonder what a major business professional might say about what's happening in Indy? Oh wait, one did give an opinion.

Here's a  FAQ about the Atlanta situation. but it doesn't seem to tell the whole tale, which comes in bits and pieces. The HuffPost did a little bit of almost reporting on this one.

So, what's this all mean? Three orchestras out, maybe one (or two with St. Paul also looking bad?)

I remember writing about the Detroit strike ever so long ago, looking at "what are we worth?" Honestly, i look at what orchestra musicians make, and i'm still astounded. Yes, i know how much work they've put in, how hard the auditions are, how much instruments cost, etc. Just because i chose not to do the circuit and am now a composer instead of a trombonist doesn't mean I didn't learn the lessons- the stress injuries (my right wrist is pretty much ruined from poor piano technique for too many years), the instrument costs (trombones are cheap. I could only spend $5K on a new setup plus regular cleaning/maintenance costs at around $200 a pop every few months. love how cheap my instrument is compared to, oh, i dunno, one of theses! woo, there goes $1.7 million!), and everything else that comes with the gig.

BUT, this isn't about that. It's really not. Think of it this way- what would happen if your boss stepped up to you and say "starting tomorrow, i'm cutting your pay by 33%. We've got to cut overhead, and this is how it's going to be."

Would you be able to pay the rent this month? feed your kids? fix your car?

The answer is probably not. What if he told you "Over the next 2 years, to save money, i'm going to have to cut salaries by 33%. But i'm gonna do it 2% a month till it hits 33%. Then, after a year, if the money is coming in, I'll start bumping it back up 2% at a time."

That'd still suck balls, but if it was a job you loved in a place that was in dire straights, you'd be willing to make it work. And with the gradual shift, you could plan, make allowances, etc.

33% pay cut is still insane. Seriously, 33%? I think about losing 33% of my meager living (around $19K) and i freak out. Could i live on around $13K? Maybe, but i'm used to being poor as shit.

And the bigger problem is negotiating in good faith. It seems like a lot of these situations arose not because of the musicians. Are the musicians performing badly? Are they not bring in tickets (in Chicago they had ticket sales increases!)?

Really, this letter says it all. The musicians are the players, and if you want to cut paying the players...You get the Kansas City Royals vs. the New York Yankees. Who's gonna win?

And do we want symphonies full of AAA squads?

And, after all that, ya know what's even sadder to me? When I walked into a class at a major conservatory, there were people who didn't even know this was happening...That is even sadder than all these negotiations and shows one of the biggest failings of musicians- sitting in a bubble, thinking nothing can affect them.


Something I'm afraid of...

I was forwarded a blog post a couple days ago. It was quite provocative- the first half attacking some of the institutional sexism in place in theater, the coda illustrating what happens exactly when a female speaks out- smacked down with a "this is how it is" and flabbergasted.

The show quoted, Peter and the Starcatcher, is one I would undoubtedly not have wanted to see in the first place. And it's even more likely not one that I would ever write.

This writing thing is new to me. I've just "finished" my first 10 minute play, with revisions and workshopping. It's in the hands of a director and there will undoubtedly be more revisions. The cast is 2 males.

I've seen what the author is talking about first hand, not just in theater but in music as well. This shooting down sexism, saying "oh it's ok because of 'x,' " the tossing it off as a joke. It's always there though, under the surface. There's the conversations in music, the dislike of the all female, or all gay, or all whatever festivals. We talk like it excludes these groups from the mainstream events, that it's "ok to leave them off this concert, because there's a concert over here just for them." Separate is never equal. But also the victim-blaming, "Well, if s/he was just a better composer/writer/actor then we wouldn't even have to talk about this." It's there, a part of many arts...

But that's not what I'm afraid of.

I asked myself after reading this "how can i help change this?" the obvious answer is write strong female characters.

That's what i'm afraid of.

Why? Because I know many strong amazing women. Women who have started businesses, that attended N.O.W. conferences, that help organize unions to fight for workers rights. I've known women who have taken jobs and don't want a family, and women that have turned down high paying jobs to start a family, women who've organized everything themselves and made careers from the ground up while raising a family. I've seen women have to fight for their basic rights (again!) and watch videos of strong women inspiring young girls to not be held down by stereotypes.

And i'm scared to death I won't be able to capture any of that.

My last 2 vocal pieces have been premiered by Sarah E. Fox, a fantastic soprano. The most recent, I asked a friend of mine, Jacob Garbe, to write the text...and to make it somewhat gender neutral. I think the tone is close, still a bit masculine, but much less so than what I'm capable of writing. The older piece I decided that I wanted to set poetry by a female- i was sick of hearing songs for soprano that had an obvious masculine tone to them.

Now, I'm writing my own plays and possibly writing my own libretto (still holding out hope for a collaborator!). And I sit here thinking of great ideas for strong female leads, and I sketch a little dialogue, and it's definitely weak compared to my male characters.

All I can do is practice. Hopefully, I can grow to write a strong, convincing female lead. But I wonder how many men have this problem? There's the mantra "write what you know." And i think it's pretty obvious many men do not understand women in any way shape or form.

The way for me, personally, to fight these issues, is to become a better writer. Because, if I don't, I'll only contribute to the problem while bemoaning "oh, i just can't write convincing female characters." And that's a pretty horrible excuse to perpetuate a problem.


How to improve your mood

My roommate and I got into quite the discussion this evening. We were discussing some pedagogical ideas for his new mentee, someone who has admitted to "having trouble coming up with original ideas" and whose music (that i've heard, which isn't much) is strongly rooted in early Romantic style. What started out as brainstorming ideas (giving him crazy examples, getting him to write a piece without using standard notation, making him write something for my roommate who is a fine cellist, etc) turned into "well, what's this student been missing to want/need this at this point in his degree?" This led to "Well, we can design a composition degree that's awesome! at least better than what we had" (NOTE- I do not have an undergrad degree in composition. Mine was technically a BMA in general music, but it's 7/8's an ed degree...so I compared it to what the general music degree was designed for at DePauw, which I thought was a great starting point).

Because I'm insanely confident, being a master of all things pedagogical, here it is!

  • Theory I-IV 3cr each (Should span 17th century counterpoint basics, 18th century counterpoint basics, tonality and vertical harmony, and 20th century techniques)
  • Aural skills I-IV 3cr each (same as above)
  • History Overview I-II (early through romantic) 3cr each
  • 20th Century history 3cr
  • Intro to Seminar Research topics 3cr (think a research style class, but focused on a seminar topic instead of disassociated from anything)
  • Conducting I 3cr
  • Orchestration 3cr
  • Instrumentation (choice of 2, Woodwind, Brass, Strings. If playing one of those families, must take other 2 families) 3cr each
  • Primary Instrument I-IV 3cr each
  • Comp (8 semesters) 3cr each (final semester is prepping a concert)
  • Keyboard I-IV 1cr each (Until proficiency is passed. if passed early, fill in credits elsewhere. If not passed after 4 semester, can transfer into private piano for 1cr until passing)
  • Class Voice 1cr
  • Large Ensemble (6 semesters, credits not counted into total)
  • Small Ensemble (6 semesters, credits not counted into total)
  • Recital Attendance (every semester, 12 recitals)
  • Counterpoint I-II (17th/18th/19th and Contemporary) 3cr each
  • Techniques of Electronic Music I- Digital Audio 3 cr
  • Intro to Writing/English Comp I 3 cr
  • Foreign Language I-II (Fr, It, Ger) 3 cr each
  • 24 credits of liberal arts/area of concentration (tracks would include Electronic Music, Literature, Science, Computer Science, etc.)
By my count, this comes to around 131 credit hours, or about 16.375 credits per semester (not counting ensembles, of course)

There are some oddities: The intro to Seminar Research is a class my roommate and I have never encountered, but after a heated discussion about seminar classes in undergrad, decided the hybrid was an interesting choice. I conceded my "TONS OF SEMINARS!!!" to his "NO ONE DOES THAT!!!"

The instrumentation class is my idea- it's based on the ed style "techniques" classes, but instead of focusing on pedagogy, it's a survey of families including learning basic playing technique of each along with basic writing skills for them. I found my techniques classes invaluable as I got further into orchestration- having picked up a clarinet, i know what it's like to do some of those leaps, or thanks to learning a little cello, i can "bow" passages and understand how the phrasing won't work how I want it to. All from basic classes. Totally worth it.

We limited primary instrument to 6 semesters due to senior year being hardcore prep for a senior composition recital of around 1 hour of music. That more than makes up for not being in those lessons

The 1 Techniques of EA Music i fought for. It's important to get composers at least introduced to the hardware and software for working creatively. Then they can fill out an area of concentration in EA Music (maybe I'll make that later? LOL). I still like the idea of EA Comp degree, but that's for later. LOL. it would also give students an intro to editing, which is hugely important in a practical manner.

And the not really liberal arts? It comes down to classes. Ever seen "Physics for Presidents?" or "Intro to Ecological Ideas?" Yeah, BS classes for people to fulfill their credits. I see the trend and I say "why not make students focus on an another area?" Theoretically, I think it will better serve students than the low-end "use this to fulfill your credit" type course.

Though, at our highly esteemed Theoretical Conservatory of Awesomesauce, no such classes would exist. It's fun to dream...

So, thoughts? What do people think about this collection of classes and break up of things? What's missing? What's not focused on enough? GIMME SOME LOVE!!!


In Honor of John Cage

  • Tension, release, but not release into a nice major chord, but a bursting forth f the built up energy.
  • Talk about magical wisdom. It's all about how we listen, what we listen for in a conversation. The other quote I grabbed from Ethan Iverson giving a great discussion of why competitions aren't great for art: especially a performance competition of Jazz.
  • Well it means quote 1 sticks into quote 2. If I listen to all the wrong parts of what I'm being told, it means I compromise the idea of quote 2- I write for a judge. If it gets me an award, then it's worth it." Listen to the part that says "Write the best music you can, get a nice recording, and send it out. So listen to the whole sentence, and work for your love of what you do.
  • • 8 premieres (yeah, that's right, i wrote one piece that wasn't a commission. go figure. 1 international paper presentation
  • "work must contain a song from "
  • I also performed on 4 more pieces during the course of the night. I've been going through the recordings, cleaning them up, etc. It's still pretty stressful hearing your music performed, whether for an audience of 5 or 500. 2 days after the performance, i worked on the recordings a bit. Nick Howell's solo on Hunter Long's "This Self-Imposed Abyss" sounded good to me then, but i was busy counting and playing backgrounds. We play a lot louder in concert and lose some of the dynamic contrast we worked hard on in rehearsal.
  • 4. Some was a nervous, forward pushing energy; some was a relaxed, focused energy. Most performers strive for the focused energy, but something can be said for the nervous pushing energy. LOL. Over the past month or so, I've been slowly updating my website, CV, list of compositions, etc.
  • I've sat in my fair share of coffee shops. A pleasant conversation would ensue, then we'd part ways. Russell Kirsch.
  • The first is about the performers relationship to music, especially the process of learning a new piece. It's something I've hit on before (repeatedly, forcibly) in conversation- complex pieces are rewarding endeavors, and there is much to be gained by focusing on learning the piece. The next couple are about listening. Well done, Brian Ferneyhough.
  • "We need more audience for jazz, and the way to get that audience is not to play jazz correctly. Iverson also tosses in a little dig against competitions in the classical world, at least in sense that they don't work well.
  • • Kick-off Concert for ArtSounds
  • So far, I've done well with submitting.
  • "Only accepting pieces of 1-4 performers"
  • "No piece over 15 minutes will be accepted"
  • "Pieces under 10 minutes will be given preference"
  • Put stuff up as it comes in, even if you're busy.
  • • A piece "broadcast" as a part of an online edition of a literary magazine
  • • 5 commissions
  • • A commission and release by a record label
  • Took a very long train ride a couple days ago. First was meeting a man named Chris. Ligeti String Quartet 2, Ferneyhough String Quartets 2, 3, and 4. I've always disliked pieces starting with grand pauses. Pitch, rhythm, timbre/orchestration, energy. Man, does Ligeti nail nervous. the rhythm speeds up, the dynamic ebbs and flows, but never above quiet.
  • After writing two new pieces this summer, I've started up a third. The first two played with new (to me) pitch organization systems. Ferneyhough, Brian and Boros, James. Perspectives of New Music, Vol. 28, No.2 (Summer, 1990) p 6-50.
  • "works must be influenced by "
  • So, where's the creativity? Are composers meant to just create pieces for these performance opportunities? I just described a solid 3/4 of the submissions I've seen. Toss in spending a nice chunk of change just to submit, and, well...it's a little depressing.
  • I've submitted a piece that's mostly improv, and while the call doesn't say "no improvisation," that's one of the subtexts in many calls. And i've spent $30 so far.
  • If I do that well, I have a better chance of winning. Of course, if you're pushing for your own path, it's hard to find that competition.
  • I'm playing the game now. I'll keep playing the game, while doing my own thing outside of it (i've got 2 performances lined up in town).
  • Marvin Hamlisch was a different breed of masterclass presenter. Hamlisch wasn't afraid to state his opinion of a piece, drive right to the heart of the matter. Hamlisch's musical output was prodigious. He was decorated, worked as a pops conductor, and accomplished great things for musical theater. Hamlisch will be missed for his musical works and his conducting. Fare the well Marvin Hamlisch
  • Rhythm starts slow, speeds up, burst forth. Simplicity- a straight forward idea executed perfectly.
  • 9/1/12

    Don't get so down

    This year I made the resolution to do more submissions. So far, I've done well with submitting.

    but i'm batting a .000 for acceptance.

    This should get me down, but it doesn't really. I've done alright with getting submissions out, but I'm still only about 0/8 or so. Something else gets me down more...

    "No piece over 15 minutes will be accepted"

    "Pieces under 10 minutes will be given preference"

    "Only accepting pieces of 1-4 performers"

    "work must contain a song from "

    "works must be influenced by "

    So, where's the creativity? Are composers meant to just create pieces for these performance opportunities? I just described a solid 3/4 of the submissions I've seen. not to mention another big turn off:

    "there will be a <$10-$50> processing fee."

    This depresses me. What i consider to be my finest work is a piece for 7 performers (flute, clarinet, violin, cello, percussion, piano, and voice) and comes in between 16-18 minutes, depending on the performance. the piece is either too long (most call for 15 minute max) or too many performers (i've seen up to 5, mostly the 1-4, but not often 7) and definitely a combination of the above. Toss in spending a nice chunk of change just to submit, and, well...it's a little depressing.

    Still, I've sent 3 submissions over the last 24 hours, and I'm looking to do more. I left out 2 movements of Dance of Disillusionment and Despair, bringing it down to right around 15 minutes. I think the piece suffers for it, but that's the magic number. I've submitted a piece that's mostly improv, and while the call doesn't say "no improvisation," that's one of the subtexts in many calls. And i've spent $30 so far.

    I'm playing the game now. And it's not paying off very well. I'll keep playing the game, while doing my own thing outside of it (i've got 2 performances lined up in town).

    I'd rather see more openness in calls. I understand programming issues. I've curated a fair number of concerts myself, handled calls, etc. and it still makes me sad, as a composer, to think that to get my music performed more than the 1 or 2 performances I make happen, that my works will sit in a cabinet and grow dusty.

    But the game hasn't won yet. And, who knows, maybe I'll come out on top, after sending out as many submissions as possible. I've heard from a writer friend of mine that sending large amounts (can't even think of a number...) of submissions on a single piece and getting tons of rejections is normal. You just keep sending.

    Well, I'll just keep sending then.