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Author Topic: The Glamourous Life  (Read 1986 times)

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Offline NowherewomanTopic starter

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The Glamourous Life
« on: August 12, 2020, 08:34:37 pm »
So, as some people here know, out in the Real World beyond our tight cybercommunity- it still exists, trust me, though in somewhat degraded form- I'm a professional musician.  Oh, I've done other things. I have and still do teach at a variety of levels- most people in the business do, even if they don't 'need' the money; it's an odd combination of truly wanting to share our art and experience with younger up-and-comers and the shoring up of the fragile-yet-often-immense egos so common in our field by showing that we 'know better' than someone else.

I've delivered bad restaurant food. For a while, I worked at a New Age bookstore and head shop- the stories from THAT place would be worth a blog in themselves. I even dipped a few toetips in the shallow pool of non-profit arts consulting, but that's long since gone by the boards, devoured by economic slumps and larger and more versatile groups with, admittedly, more and better-trained staff.  Funny how the most underfunded non-profit sector on Earth can still be milked for someone else's profit...anyway, that's a rant for another point in time.

The point is, for nearly 40 years, I've been a professional performer, primarily but not exclusively of 'Classical' music. Got the t-shirt (it was the wrong size), ate the burger (hold the rat hair, please). Through all that time, I've encountered curiosity and confusion, interest and misinformation from the people we some times laughingly call 'civilians'- i.e., those of you with the nice steady 9-to-5 or graveyard shift jobs, or what have you. At least what used to be nice and steady. Also called 'day jobs', no matter when they actually take place on the clock.

So this blog will be a wandering through some of my experiences and thoughts about Life In The Biz, with side forays into more general philosophical blathering that may apply to all performing arts, or the capital-A-Arts in general.

We'll cover behind-the-scenes process (for example, how orchestral auditions work, and why changing the format won't necessarily result in more diversity in professional orchestras), probably some history (what is 'Classical' music, anyway?), and more personal issues (like: why the hell would ANYONE want to do this for a living, especially now?). From time to time, I'll throw in various pieces of kitchen plumbing that relate to the main subject of the blog, and that I think may interest people.  Expect nothing resembling pre-set structure; this is an improv session, baby.

For just a foretaste, the title of this blog comes from a song by Stephen Sondheim, from his musical A Little Night Music:

The Glamorous Life; linked b/c young actress at top of song.

Apologies for both audio and video quality, but this was the only version of the tune I could find that didn't perpetuate a rather unfortunate couple of cuts and a single lyric error that you can find on the Original Cast Album.  Yes, Bernie Peters gets off a beat in the second lyric, but her delivery is stellar, and being a pro with an orchestra of pros, they fix it.  Same with the chorus glitch a bit later. That sort  of spontaneity, that 'what's going to happen next?' is something you will never find on iTunes. Anyway, listen to it, and you'll already know something about our lives on, back, and often understage.

(Sondheim wrote a completely different version of this song for a revival of the show a few years ago, which completely changes the focus from the character of the aging actress Desiree Armfelt to her daughter Frederika, who plays a minor role in the original. We'll get to that one later (and yes, I am that much of a geek about some of this stuff.))

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Re: The Glamourous Life
« Reply #1 on: August 12, 2020, 11:55:27 pm »
Sign me up! Back when I was a young clonk, with a full head of hair and a gleam in my eye, I considered going into music full time. Even made a little pocket money off it in undergrad, when my trio got hired for a weekly restaurant gig.

I played long enough with good people to know some of the shenanigans that go one right under the audience's nose, and while my horns are in dire need of a spa day, I'm really excited for this. Both to learn more, and to get a bit of a vicarious fix. My walls are too thin to subject elderly neighbours to mouthpiece exercises and altissimo.

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Re: The Glamourous Life
« Reply #2 on: August 13, 2020, 02:32:14 am »
Signs up too!

I am clueless regarding music, but considering it is another language, I feel very intrigued. Plus, It is NWW that shares her experience, what can go wrong?!

Offline NowherewomanTopic starter

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Re: The Glamourous Life
« Reply #3 on: August 13, 2020, 08:48:37 am »
So here's an interesting thought experiment:

W.A. Mozart is generally considered one of the most insanely gifted musicians of all time.  While the movie Amadeus is primarily inane fun- and historically questionable- the musical feats shown are attested to by his contemporaries: playing blindfolded, crossed hands, upside down; the ability to write out entire works by other composers after a single hearing, etc. (There will be a later entry here about musical generalists vs. specialists- Editor.)

Now consider: what if his father had been a cobbler? After all, it was Leopold Mozart who gave Wolfgang his earliest musical training, who exposed him to the music of the day- and who rode and exploited him, turning him into a show prodigy, trading on his gifts for cash and even lying about his age to make him seem even more miraculous.  Would fashionistas today be worshiping an 'Amadeus' line of boots, likely made under license in some East Asian sweatshop?  Or would blood have 'outed itself', despite the paternal influence?

Words like 'talent' and 'genius' get thrown around a lot in the arts. Even in the negative: the French composer Camille Saint-Saëns was once described as 'the greatest composer who is not a genius'. People are 'musical' or they're not. And that is a part of it- just as there are workaday b-ball players, ones who get the job done but never shine on the court, there are workaday musicians. On the other hand, they say 90% of life is just showing up. So is it nature- Something In The Blood? Or nurture- the terrifying parent standing over you forcing you to practice 120 hours a day. The daily grind, that makes you internalize what you need to know, until it becomes part of your body, never mind how you get started in it?

In my own case, save for a great-uncle I only met once, who held a major symphony position before getting married and taking up law, and a cousin whom I never met at all, there are, so far as I know, no other professional musicians in my family, at least for a number of generations back. One actor, a writer-producer, a doctor, a career military officer, enough engineers to open a consulting firm...no musicians. So there's no grand Family Tradition a la the Bach family, for example.

However, a great many in my immediate family are or were 'musical'. One parent was actually training to become a pro before health issues intervened; the other was an amateur pianist and composer who wrote several short musicals in college. A grand- and a great-grand both played piano and organ for enjoyment. An Uncle played guitar semi-seriously for a bit. I grew up surrounded by music, and not only 'Classical' stuff- show tunes, Simon and Garfunkel, the Beatles...even Country and Western, the real stuff- before Nashville became Cashville, and a bunch of guys and gals who had never seen a cow flop decided to go redneck and ride the rodeo clown car to the achy-breaky bank.

So. Was I 'predisposed' to be a musician, by heritage or environment? I started playing at 8 (6, actually, when Mom tried to teach me piano, but I rebelled) and  knew, from about the age of 12 or 13, that it was what I wanted to do with my life. Way too old to be any sort of prodigy.  My folks supported me, but aside from one episode where they told me if I wasn't going to practice, they saw no point in continuing to pay for lessons, they never rode me. Even in college, I never had my own personal Leopold Mozart, whipping me into a frenzy (something I regret today, as my practice habits are still sub-par). Was it a subconscious thing, the typical 'child relives the parent's frustrated dreams' thing? Or a private, unvoiced rebellion- 'There are too many damned engineers in this family. I'm going to go do something impractical for a living!'*?

All, none. Yes, no, maybe.  The jury's out. I think, if you had to break it down, you could say that anyone can reach a certain level of competence in music- just as in anything else- by putting in the work. But the grind, and even a love for the job, can be rendered a bit sterile without something else, a spark. Not 'genius', necessarily, just- something more.  And the most naturally gifted person on Earth can flame out, their candle dying, if they don't have the drive- or someone to drive them.

*True fact: While I 'always wanted' to be a musician, even as late as my Junior year in HS, I was still considering pursuing either Psychology or architecture.  The Road Not Taken...

Another true fact: I have a colleague who is still very enamored of the idea that Mozart was poisoned, a theory that has been abandoned by nearly every historian. This person spins it, further, into a grand conspiracy: Amadeus was poisoned on the direct order of the Emperor, as part of a sub rosa campaign against the Freemasons, whose Enlightenment ideals were threatening the established power structure.
« Last Edit: August 13, 2020, 10:10:52 am by Nowherewoman »

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Re: The Glamourous Life
« Reply #4 on: August 13, 2020, 06:23:23 pm »
I've wondered about this sort of thing on occasion too. From my own experience, I've felt like I have a certain intuition that pops up anywhere I have a little talent. Music, math, poetry... any time I got into the zone, there was this feeling of moving shapes and patterns around in my head until they clicked together.

Of course, I've known plenty of unmusical mathematicians, and many musicians who were terrified of anything mathematical. But I've always figured they have different kinds of intuition, that probably cross over into other areas. I've never had a knack for drawing, but I know that part of the process involves breaking a figure down into basic underlying shapes and building on top of that. And there's gotta be some kind of intuition for organizing a desk, because I've never quite figured out how to do it.

I'd imagine nature probably furnishes us with particular intuitions, but through nurture we figure what things plug into that intuition best. There's always more things we could be good at than we have time to try and master.

Offline NowherewomanTopic starter

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Re: The Glamourous Life
« Reply #5 on: August 13, 2020, 06:51:00 pm »
I've wondered about this sort of thing on occasion too. From my own experience, I've felt like I have a certain intuition that pops up anywhere I have a little talent. Music, math, poetry... any time I got into the zone, there was this feeling of moving shapes and patterns around in my head until they clicked together.

Of course, I've known plenty of unmusical mathematicians, and many musicians who were terrified of anything mathematical. But I've always figured they have different kinds of intuition, that probably cross over into other areas. I've never had a knack for drawing, but I know that part of the process involves breaking a figure down into basic underlying shapes and building on top of that. And there's gotta be some kind of intuition for organizing a desk, because I've never quite figured out how to do it.

I'd imagine nature probably furnishes us with particular intuitions, but through nurture we figure what things plug into that intuition best. There's always more things we could be good at than we have time to try and master.

I suspect that it's similar to the way some researchers say that everyone is to some fractional extent 'gay'- it's just that many people never meet that special other who flips that switch for them. Inside each of us is some sort of savant of some level, but it may never be released.  Less and less likely to be, now, too, with educators at least here in the States relying more and more on standardized testing to measure 'learning', thus producing ever-more Reliable Regurgitating Robots for the zombie box-stacking armies of Wal-Mart (more of that specific rant later).

The relationship between music and math is a good point- but it extends to the sciences more in general, or seems to. Many, many doctors and hacker types are at least competent amateur-level musicians. There's something about the structured sort of thinking required for some sorts of careers that seems to synergise with artistic disciplines, and music in particular.  Research proves over and over again, also, that learning music even at a fairly rudimentary level enhances pattern recognition and logical thinking. But there's no good way to make a multiple-choice test for something that's a subjective art form, so away it goes under the New Fad. Plus, it's not team sports, (FOOTBALL IS THE MOST IMPORTANT THING IN THE WORLD, YO!) so no one gives a rodent's rump. (another rant to be expanded on later).

Along similar channels...I gave a lecture series to a Music Theory class many years ago investigating the hackneyed phrase 'Music is the Universal Language'.  We started with parallels of phonemes, syntax, and grammar- all technical building blocks that have vague but real analogues in music. But as you can probably anticipate, we ran into trouble as soon as we started trying to deal with meaning and context. To be sure, music communicates to nearly everyone on some level, but what it communicates and to what extent varies widely from listener to listener.  We quickly dispensed with the specific sense of 'Universal', though IIR, we came to the conclusion that one could call it  meta-Universal, in that all cultures have some form of and reaction to music.

Is it a language, in the traditionally accepted sense, however? Now we start wandering into the realms of science/speculative fiction. How do you describe a truly alien culture, if there are no common referents? Humans and Martians would experience the same mathematical truths and physical laws, and might find ways to communicate that shared understanding. But if our new neighbors were all deaf, say, or had vision that reached into the UV band- how could we ever experience one another's concepts of beauty beyond sterile description?  Music faces a similar problem when one attempts to consider it as language because, while differing listeners can- probably- agree on basics such as rhythm (again, a mathematical structure), emotional referents, and therefore meaning will as often as not part ways. Even two rabidly learned fans of the same piece may prefer differing recordings or performances, because they 'say' different things to each. So- language or not language?

TL;DR: Art is experiential, and while Capital-A-Art may be a universal among all intelligent beings, 'meaning' in any given piece of art is fluid, and in some cases may remain beyond the scope of any given experiencers' reach.

Deep thoughts, especially for a bunch of Highschoolers, many of whom were far to busy trying to pick out their Prom dresses than actually...you know...pass the damn class :D

And not where I'd planned to go with this entry. Damn you Clonk! <3

Offline NowherewomanTopic starter

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Re: The Glamourous Life
« Reply #6 on: August 13, 2020, 09:40:49 pm »
Opera AH-purr-ah. (n): A musical art form in the course of which unbelievable characters sing at inopportune times for unlikely reasons, using obscure words in a language most of the audience doesn't understand, in order to further the thinnest of plots, and during which at least one person will spend a minimum of twenty minutes dying in the final act.

See also: Theater, musical; Television, Prime Time, 1980s and 90s.
« Last Edit: August 13, 2020, 10:03:04 pm by Nowherewoman »

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Re: The Glamourous Life
« Reply #7 on: August 14, 2020, 01:28:23 am »
And not where I'd planned to go with this entry. Damn you Clonk! <3

Wouldn't be an improv session without a few curve balls, right? ;)

Offline NowherewomanTopic starter

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Re: The Glamourous Life
« Reply #8 on: August 14, 2020, 10:11:24 pm »
Questions I Get A lot: Part 1


Most of these come from students at various question and answer sessions, but some come from parents or adult audience members. They're the 'repeat offenders' from the list  :D


How long have you been playing?

If you count the first time I tried to learn an instrument, it's been...46 years.  I started bass, my primary, when I was 8.  My first paid pro gig was 39 years ago, a pit job with a local chorus that did a musical every year.

What instruments do you actually play?

I'm first and foremost an upright bass player. I do play electric, but not exceptionally well.  I started cello in HS, and took it as a secondary through college; while I wouldn't say I'm a high-class professional, I play well enough to teach beginners, coach chamber music, and play easy wedding gigs and garden party type stuff.

As I mentioned, my mother tried to start me on piano, her own instrument, when I was 6.  I resisted, but picked at it on my own later in life, and studied it passingly seriously for a bit in college. At one time, I was a competent sight reader and tolerable plink-plunk player, but years without easy access to an instrument to practice on means that whatever modest facility I once had is pretty well gone.

I also sang in HS, at first under duress (I'm something of a wallflower, and have a soft, wispy voice; for some odd reason adding words to whatever I'm doing makes me far more self-conscious than just playing an instrument in front of people- and even that used to give me horrendous stage fright), later with far more joy than competence. It was great for both my sense of pitch and my reading ability, and I would strongly recommend spending some time in some sort of choral group for anyone who wants to play seriously, or just get better at an instrument they may already play for fun. Even if you think you're embarrassing yourself, it'll be good for you, in many ways.

Viola lessons took up a bit of my time, but it was too late for me to do much, especially since my body had already developed around the physical demands of bass. I had a hard time getting my left arm under the instrument enough that I could reach the strings correctly, and my last teacher- an excellent player, to be fair, and quite good with their primary students- didn't have patience for someone who was on their 3rd secondary instrument, so wasn't very helpful for me.

Finally, as part of my composition studies, I blatted, flurped, and tweedled through most of the brass and winds, in classes intended for Education majors. I can't say I remember much at all of it, except knowing which valves do what (sorta) on trumpet, and how to get a sound out of a flute (usually not the one I want, though).


How did you start?

Discounting my abortive early attempt at piano? I was fortunate to be in a very strong and diverse school district in the NE that, at that time, supported its arts programs with more than just lip service (remember, this was well before the current Big Edu Love Fest of MOAR TESTS PLEAZE!). In third grade, we were broken up into 'anyone who wants to play winds/brass/percussion' and 'anyone who wants to play strings'. That initial division may have been through some sort of survey, and I have a very dim memory that we needed parental approval to even take the survey- but that may be false.

Anyway, each group then had an assembly period during which 'upperclasspersons'- I think they were ever-so-advanced fifth graders- gave demos of their individual instruments. It must have been pretty terrible, in most cases, but not enough to drive any of us screaming from the building...

We then each selected the instrument we wanted, and we started in orchestra and group lessons the following school year. I don't remember any instances of the sort of thing you hear about, where a teacher redirected a student to a different instrument from that which they'd chosen. Not to say it never happened, I just wasn't aware of it if it did.

Why BASS?

I honestly don't recall why I picked strings as a concentration instead of Winds/Brass. Probably the noise level of the latter ;D

At the time, female upright players were somewhat rare, but I had no way of knowing that. Violin is not well-represented by any but the most accomplished 5th grader (which these mostly were not, IIR), and so the demo mostly sounded like crickets eating a cat alive. It was also the instrument all the girly-girls were lining up for.

I enjoyed viola, thought it sounded mellow even in the hands of a beginner, loved cello (still do)- but I thought bass looked and sounded totally badass. Also, no one else was picking it, which appealed to my isolationist nature.

I never thought at the time I'd still be playing it so much later in my life- or about the fact that my parents would no longer be moving my gear for me...

Who's your favorite composer?

Depends on time of day, week, month, year, phase of moon, and the density of the neutrino flux where I'm standing. I am a huge fan of Brahms, and Bach is always a go-to. Mozart symphonies; while I very much like Beethoven, I'm often not in the mood. Rachmaninov piano music, Mahler when I'm in a head...there's no end to just the so-called 'Classical' composers I could pile onto that list, before we even get to other genres.

If I were forced to compile a 'desert island' list, though, Bach would definitely be at the top of it.

How do you really spell 'Tchaikovsky'?

If you don't read and write Cyrillic? Incorrectly. All the common Western spellings of it are more or less 'correct', but are phonetic transliterations of some letters we don't have.
« Last Edit: August 15, 2020, 07:54:37 am by Nowherewoman »

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Re: The Glamourous Life
« Reply #9 on: August 15, 2020, 12:13:07 am »
At last, I know what the heck you play! Standup bass is super cool!

The cello, on the other hand... well... I played cello from first grade 'til tenth, and somehow never learned bass clef. I try not to speak of it too widely, though, because any time people find out, someone invariably says, "Oh, the cello is such a beautiful instrument!"

These people have never heard me play the cello. >.>

Offline NowherewomanTopic starter

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Re: The Glamourous Life
« Reply #10 on: August 15, 2020, 07:56:54 am »
The downside of bass AND cello, of course, is that in school we get to endlessly play things like the Pachelbel Canon...





"There is no way to be cool when your instrument is larger than you." c'est verite.


There's also a segment in the last movement of Mahler's first symphony where the basses sit on the same note for...42?  45? bars.  Mostly in a slow tempo.  That hurts.


...I looked it up. 61 bars. Then 2 bars of rest and another 37 measures...of the same damn note...
« Last Edit: August 15, 2020, 08:03:12 am by Nowherewoman »

Offline NowherewomanTopic starter

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Re: The Glamourous Life
« Reply #11 on: August 17, 2020, 01:32:35 pm »
First speaker: (Usually but not always a young male, often trying to be clever): "Wow!  That's a really big guitar!"

Second speaker: (Often but not always a young female, frequently whacking Speaker 1 in the back of the head, or showing some other sign of disdain): "That's not a guitar, dumbass!  It's a cello!"


Paraphrased, naturally- it's not always kids, often it's adults. But it's the sort of thing I hear frequently when I'm moving my bass (and stool. and some of the time a stand) into or through a venue where there are civilians.*  And rarely do the darlings offer to help, though at least with students, I get it: if they're late to their Education Bunker without permission, they'll be downchecked, disciplined, written up, what have you. Because being a decent human isn't any part of STEM...

I thought this would be a good place to talk about what the differences actually are between 'cello and bass. If some of this is old news to some of you, you still might want to stick around. There's some historical and technical geekdom to be had.


So. First and foremost:  unlike 'cello (full name violoncello, hence the apostrophe, if you're being pedantic), the bass is not a member of the violin family.

I'll say that again. Though it's often called the bull fiddle, or bass violin (which is a totally different instrument, now mostly obsolete- it morphed into the 'cello), the modern bass (technically double bass, for reasons we'll hit later) is actually a parallel development or offshoot of the string family. In fact, ironically, while our second speaker would seem to be the more closely informed, actually speaker one, entirely accidentally, is the more correct. The modern bass is more closely related to the guitar than the violin. Its immediate predecessor instrument, the violone, was a 5- or 6- string instrument with rope frets, and alternate tunings.

Let's touch first on tuning.  All the violin family is tuned in fifths, that is, with the open strings being five note names apart.  For 'cello (and viola, at an octave higher), it's:


with the numbers after the note names referring to the octave iteration of that note above the lowest note on the piano. Why?  Because.

Bass, though, is tuned in fourths:


and in this case, the graphic includes electric bass tablature, which is appropriate. Bass guitar sounds in the same range as upright, and is tuned the same way; it retains the guitar frets (in most cases), but uses a fingering system closer to that of cello, because of the smaller body size and somewhat shorter mensure (string length).

5-string variants of both upright and electric exist, but while on bass guitar the 5th string is almost always a B 4 notes blow the low E shown above, on upright it may be a low B, or a high C, four notes above the G string. In addition, many orchestral basses these days have been fitted with an 'extension', basically an added bit of fingerboard to allow for an extra-long string, tuned down to C or B:


The extra bit of board and string is needed to maintain the fingering patterns on the low string. Both low extensions and low 5-strings allow the double bass to play a full octave (twice as low) or more below the 'cello at all times.

Simple right? Hah.  It gets even more confusing when we realize that until comparatively recently, the tuning AND the number of strings on a bass were not standardized in the manner. As late as 1887, in his opera Othello, the great Giuseppe Verdi was compelled to write, in a place in the bass part where there is a very important line 'Only to be played by those basses with a 4th string', proving that at that time, 3-string basses were common enough for specific instructions to be required.  The passage starts on the low E indicated on the chart above, and he didn't want the change in acoustic effect created by playing the first few notes up an octave.  It's at the beginning of act 4 in the opera, the scene from the play where Desdemona is saying her prayers before Othello strangles her. It's a creepy, brilliant piece of writing and even if you hate opera, I suggest giving it a listen.

A 3-stringer might be tuned G-D-G, G-D-A, or A-D-G, at the player's discretion. This is a holdover from the earlier violone, where regional tuning systems prevailed (In Vienna, for example, a 5-string violone would likely have been tuned F-A-D-F#-A). Add to this confusion the fact that some  modern players have taken to tuning in 5ths, like 'cello, using a mixture of string types, and that it's not uncommon to tune the E string down to a D (and then refinger everything on that string), and you'll already see that fiddle players have it easy.

This is getting long, so I'll break the other differences out into a separate post later. Keep you hungry! ;D


*Along with other such brilliant witticisms as 'what's in there, a body?' and, 'don't you wish you played the flute?' The first one I usually shut down by telling them that what's in the case is the body of the last person who asked what was in the case. Still looking for a good comeback to the flute one.

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Re: The Glamourous Life
« Reply #12 on: August 19, 2020, 10:21:28 am »
We interrupt this geekgasm for something cool:





Not me, alas. I'm not this clever.

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Re: The Glamourous Life
« Reply #13 on: August 23, 2020, 08:18:59 pm »
To quote the disgraced but eternally funny Bill Cosby: "I told you that story to tell you this one."

After listening to the below (assuming you did), you may be wondering (or not) "En, why don't we hear more of the bass as a solo instrument?" After all, you can't swing a catgut string without garroting a hundred pianists, six dozen violinists, a score of cellists, a couple of trumpet players, and a few (but never, ever enough) tenors.

In fact, during the 17th and early 18th centuries, the violone was considered as viable a solo instrument as almost anything else. There are scores of concertos, sonatas, and solo works from that time frame; Franz Joseph Hadyn actually started drafting a concerto (devastatingly, no more than a sketch), and as late as 1791 Mozart composed a concert aria, Per Questa Bella Mano, for baritone solo, small orchestra, and violone obbligato. Only in the later ages of 'Classical' music (more on the use and misuse of that term later) has the bass dropped out of sight, to only now gradually start returning to the concert stage,

Which brings us back to the differences between bass and 'cello, and all of its stringed cousins.

The first and most obvious one is simply size. The bass is the largest orchestral string instrument, and one of the largest man-portable strings you'll see anywhere; only the octobass, a horrific invention of the mid-XIXth century, exceeds it in all dimensions, and only the harp and the theorbo, a plucked instrument of the early-mid Baroque challenge it in length/height.

They say size doesn't matter- and there are a number of modern players, especially from Eastern Europe who can almost make you believe it- but consider these facts. An average hand on a piano can cover an octave; with modest training, tenths are reasonably easy. On violin, the span of the fingers on a single string can cover a sixth without strain, and across strings, octaves and tenths are commonplace. Viola is close to the same, though a bit more of a reach, and on 'cello, one is trained to reach a major third.

On bass?  Fingers 1-4  give you a single whole step*. This means, no matter how objectively fast your reaction time, you have to move enormously more often to cover groups of notes the other instruments can ofttimes play with a single finger extension.

With size, of course, come also issues of mass and response.  Bass players are divided into two roughly equal camps as to the bowing technique they favor: French, which is an overhanded grip with the index finger somewhat extended, in the same basic configuration as the other strings; and German, which is related to the grip used by gamba players, the gamba family being the linear antecedents of both violone and double bass. This style uses a bow with a much wider frog- the part of the bow where the hand rests and the rearmost part of the hair is anchored- around which the middle fingers of the left hand are loosely cradled, with the thumb underneath and the first and second fingers forming sort of a shelf for the stick to rest against.

Regardless of bow style, we're faced with the challenge of exciting strings of much greater mass and thickness. As a result, bass bows are noticeably shorter and heavier than their upper string counterparts, and are less capable, both in themselves and because of the mass of the strings they are meant to move, to carry out some of the bowing gymnastics that mark the typical Romantic virtuoso style.

Length of string plus mass (plus tension, but let's keep it simple) equal pitch. The bass is not only the largest, but also the lowest sounding of the strings, and again shares its throne with only a handful of other instruments insofar as 'the lowest EVAR': primarily tuba, contrabassoon, and keyboards such as piano and organ. It's also the only string instrument that transposes: though we often play from the same parts as cellists, the resulting  notes sound an octave lower (twice as low).**

This produces some interesting byproducts. First, simply starting the note, the 'attack' can be an iffy thing when you're dealing with that mass and range. Secondly, the very low sounding range means that the upper harmonics of each note (y'all took basic physics, right? You know that a vibrating string actually vibrates in sections of specific ratios, rather than a single pure note?) are often in the audible range. This means that double stops- playing two notes simultaneously- a staple of other strings, can sound janky. You get clashes.

Just one geeky example.  Suppose you are playing a piece in Eb major.  The key or 'tonic' chord would be built out of the notes Eb-G-Bb.

There would be nothing more normal in the world to play the Eb and the G together as a double stop, for a ringing effect to reinforce the key.

Except...

When you play the G, you are also producing the natural overtones of G: G an octave higher, the D above that, another G...and then a B natural. That B natural will audibly clash with the B flat that is an overtone of the Eb you are playing. Likewise, the upper Eb partial will conflict with the D in the G overtone series, and so on.  It won't sound the same as if you mashed 2 keys side by side on a piano, because the clashing overtones are high enough that they're not carrying the much power. But the ear is aware of it as a sort of roughness or harshness, a quality you won't hear if a violin does the same thing- because in that case the overtones are high and weak enough to be more or less inaudible.

What it really comes down to, though, in the end is: volume. For all the size of the instrument, and for all everyone's used to feeling the bass at an arena show try to stop their heart...the upright bass is very, very, very soft in comparison to basically anything else except acoustic guitar. It shares with viola an acoustic imperfection: the bodies of both instruments are not large enough in proportion to their tessitura (basic playing range) to produce a volume of sound similar to 'cello and violin. For the bass to carry as well as a 'cello,  the body would have to be unmanageably mammoth (though never so much so as the octobass, which requires 2 people to  play).

Back in 'the day', when orchestras were comparatively tiny, everyone was using gut strings, concerts were  intimate affairs, and louder instruments such as oboes and trumpets were most often used as a sort of 'spice', it didn't matter.  A violone could compete without stress. But as orchestras and halls grew larger, pitch rose (News flash! 'Perfect" pitch really isn't!  Film at 11!) requiring innovations in body bracing and strings, as more instruments were developed and added, and everything got bigger...and louder...AND LOUDER (thanks, Ludwig van. I blame YOU!), the bass couldn't keep up. Oh, we adapted some, and there are some excellent pieces from the Age of Virtuosity, but nothing like the city-drowning swarms of music for nearly every other instrument save perhaps bassoon, trombone, and tuba.

Finally, all of this plays into your average orchestra manager's cowardice conservatism. If xhe hasn't heard a bass concerto- because few have- and the composer isn't familiar- because they never get programmed (see the recursion coming?), it's far more likely that they'll slot a Beethoven piano concerto or the Mendelssohn violin concerto (again and again and f'ing again) into a program, on the assumption that the audience can't possibly ever want to hear anything new, and if you gave them something other than vanilla you will be reading in the paper next day of the number of old ladies trampled as the concertgoers bolted for the fire doors...

So, children, that's how the Deep State of geometry and physics meets with the Fake News of ticket salesmanship to deprive you of all the cool bass music that's out there!  Write your Congresscritter!


*Electric bass uses a 1-2-3-4 fingering system, like 'cello, instead of the standard 1-2-4 of upright bass, giving you a reach of a minor third- but string lengths are far more standardized, and an amplified instrument of that sort requires next to no strength to depress the strings. There is a similar system that is used at times for upright, but it's best employed in the mid-range- or on a very small axe- because of the finger strength issues involved.

**Tuba parts in the same range are written where the notes actually sound, so you get to read lots of chicken scratch below the staff. Several older Italian editions of bass music adopted the same system of writing 'at pitch'. Lucky us!
« Last Edit: September 22, 2020, 09:52:20 am by Nowherewoman »

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Re: The Glamourous Life
« Reply #14 on: August 30, 2020, 02:30:01 pm »
Just one more thing...

A few, really, but thanks, Columbo.

-'cello is pretty much always played sitting, unless you're Tina Guo, or you're an Early Music geek and are playing the violoncello da spalla, literally the 'shoulder 'cello', but sometimes jokingly called the chin 'cello or the mutant viola.

Bass can be played sitting or standing, depending on your build and preference, but obviously normal chairs won't do it. Many folks use standard wooden barstools with the legs cut down to a comfortable length, but the chosen seat varies, from drum thrones (comfortable, but heavy as hell) to various expensive and usually European-made collapsible objects.

-the shape of the shoulders, or the upper curves, of the bass is another clue to its non-violin origin.  All the members of the violin family have rounded shoulders:



While violin-shaped basses exist, (I own one, in fact), more often they're pear-shaped to a greater or lesser extent:



This is the so-called 'gamba' shape, after the viola da gamba. the violone was, in fact, as member of the gamba family (note the gut-rope frets on the fingerboard):



So there you have it. Everything you never cared to know about why a bass isn't a 'cello!


« Last Edit: August 30, 2020, 02:33:19 pm by Nowherewoman »

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Re: The Glamourous Life
« Reply #15 on: September 21, 2020, 06:18:45 pm »
So let's talk perfect pitch.

No such thing.

"Bogus, dude!," I hear at least one of you cry. "I knew in utero that Miley Cyrus' Do Me Harder starts on a Q flat!" Good for you I'm jealous. Of your gift, if not your musical taste ;D

I don't deny that the phenomenon called 'perfect pitch' exists. It's too well-documented to ignore. I've known any number of people who have it. The problem is with the adjective.

Certainly many musicians have exceptionally accurate and sensitive ears. There's a story about late American composer Elliott Carter (who wrote some of the most rhythmically complex and, to my ears, unlistenable music on Earth) sitting in on an orchestra rehearsal at the Julliard School. At some point, so 'tis said, he interrupted the rehearsal to correct a wrong note in the 3rd clarinet part, or something, in this dense atonal piece. It wasn't his piece- it was a reading of a student composition. It's not clear he even had a score on hand; he'd just dropped in to listen. But he heard immediately that the note in question didn't fit the tone row (a technique for organizing music with no key or tonal center), in the midst of everything else that was going on.

And of course we've mentioned Mozart being able to reproduce a score at a single hearing. Bach could do similar things- any number of well-known and not-well-known musicians can do that sort of stuff, and even people who are not musicians.  So what's the problem?

Well, try this, for one: Carter's 'perfect' pitch was centered around the current tuning protocol, where the A above middle C has a frequency of 440Hz.*

Mozart's same A, it is generally historically accepted, was around 421Hz. Handel's, 40 years earlier? 422. Go back farther in the Baroque period, and it was lower yet. Most period instrument groups play at 415, about a full half-tone lower than modern pitch.  So their A is today's A flat.

In 1858, France standardized (you heard that right- it wasn't standard prior) on A=435Hz, while Italy a bit later settled on 432.

See the problem?  If perfect pitch were truly perfect, inborn, whole unto itself, without outside reference- many people in this historical spectrum who suffered from 'perfect' pitch would have to experience music of their time as being horrifically out of tune, in one direction or the other.  But in fact, their pitch sense aligned more or less with the pitch of their era, and often even their region- supposedly, some church organs in Germany, because of manufacturing tolerances, might have been as high as A=450. It's a fact, though, that instruments made in the 17th and 18th centuries have to be rebraced and often reshaped, reinforced to deal with the much higher running tension of modern strings at modern pitch.

Consider another example: a monk of the 10th century AD, singing 'Gregorian' or plainchant. Modern musical notation had not yet been invented, so he could not possibly say 'that note is an A'- there was no such thing. He might, indeed, be able to say 'the 23rd note of the Easter Dixit is the same note as the 3rd note of the Ave for the second week of Pentecost'. Or whatever- I'm not a professional church musician or a theologian.

Or could he? Music at the time was shaped by hand signs or relative notation from an arbitrary starting point. Modern music notation has fixed reference points in the form of the familiar note names. At the time we're discussing, the reference point might possibly be a bell of uncertain accuracy, or might simply be the note that kept the chant within the practical range of the majority of the brethren. I'm not aware, in fact, of any mention of perfect pitch from this era- which of course doesn't mean that it didn't exist (or that it hasn't been referred to- I may just not know about it). But the language, musically speaking, didn't exist to define it in the terms that are used today.

Let's add another layer of de to this bunk:  Equal Temperament, the currently-used system of diving each octave into 12 equal 1/2 tones, was discussed by theorists as early the 16th century, but wasn't widely adopted until the late 18th.  Any number of other temperament systems existed: mean tone, Pythagorean, "Well", etc.- and each of these meant that the spaces between any 2 notes, octaves aside, were subtly different.  And yet people still exhibited the phenomenon we're discussing- the ability to instantly discern what note was what. Even if they aren't the same notes today, for people doing the same thing.

So what's actually going on?  I don't have a solid answer. But for this to be a fully internal, gene-related skill would mean it would have had to evolve over the last few centuries to adjust for the changing pitches and temperaments of the time- a clear impossibility at that time scale. Most of us develop some sort of strong relative pitch- the ability to accurately reproduce intervals regardless of starting point. My money is on a combination of traits, some innate, and some environmental: a savant-like genetic gift that is 'triggered' for lack of a better word by exposure to music.  But I honestly don't know.

So who's perfect now?


*This is the theoretical ideal at this time. Pitch continues to rise, though it's now driven less by the evolution of instruments than it is by striving for a 'brighter' sound for an ensemble. Any number of modern orchestras tune anywhere from A=442 to 445 or higher. Which must be really annoying for those in the groups who have...perfect pitch.
« Last Edit: September 21, 2020, 06:29:23 pm by Nowherewoman »

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Re: The Glamourous Life
« Reply #16 on: November 22, 2020, 02:52:12 pm »
Other Questions I Get a Lot


-Are instruments expensive?  Yeah, they can be. It varies a lot by actual instrument, age, maker...a huge range of factors. Many of the 'best' instruments and bows are made with materials that are now restricted or forbidden to trade in, such as ivory, pernambucco wood, and ebony, so that adds another layer of complexity. Generally speaking, bass is the least expensive overall- primarily because they take up too much space for 'investors' to acquire dozens of them and drive the price up.  Isaac Stern, the famous violinist, had something like 100 bows by high-tier makers in a vault when he died- and scarcity leads to price.  Among the strings, violins are usually the most expensive, and can potentially run to the millions (though I do recall seeing a Lloyd's or Sotheby's auction catalog from around 1920 or so that listed a Stradivarius for like 150 bucks- a lot of money then, but nothing like today's dealer- and hoarder-inflated prices), followed by cellos, then violas. Though I have played, once, on an old Italian bass valued (at the time) around $200k- it was a friend's entire inheritance.

Guitars don't reach those heights, usually, unless they were owned by someone famous, in which case Star Power drives the price up. Wind instruments, generally, aren't in the same room pricewise- BUT they have a shelf life. Unless you totally trash a string instrument, it can be maintained, repaired, and upgraded almost indefinitely (in itself an expensive prospect). Winds, meanwhile, especially oboes, bassoons and clarinets, are prone to wear and cracking, and while they can be repaired, eventually they 'blow out' and need to be replaced. So they get you coming or going...

There are some rather good modern instruments coming out now that aren't anywhere so expensive- just so long as the makers haven't won a competition recently.


-Where do you get them? are there shops, like buying a car?  Yup, pretty much exactly. While a good number of sales are private, or directly from makers, the 'instrument lot' mechanism is still very much in swing. There's an entire strip of shops in NYC called the 'violin mall', which is exactly what it sounds like- 5 or 6 high-end dealers in one building up in...the 60s?  And there are many others in the city alone, ranging from primarily student-level gear, like Sam Ash, to professional shops.  Some tend to specialize- a lot of violin dealers won't deal with cellos and basses (snobs!) , while David Gage, way downtown, and Samuel Kolstein and Son, on Long Island, are mainly but not exclusively bass dealers and repair shops.

And yes, the comparison to car salesmen holds true all the way through. While most dealers are 'ethical', they take a hefty cut from each sale, and are at times prone to overprice things to up their cut. A few have actually gone to prison, been sued, or fled the country over their shenanigans- selling things on consignment and not paying the owners, for example.


-Can you make a lot of money as a musician? Um. Define your terms.  If you are very very good, very very lucky, or just good and inhumanly lucky? Sure. Leaving aside the current COVID Crumble that's hit the performing arts perhaps harder than any other sector, there are excellent jobs and opportunities out there. Major orchestras pay good wages, often far higher than the regional cost of living really justifies. And of course, Tay-tay is worth, like, a zillion dollars now.

However. For every great orchestra gig opening, there are often literally hundreds of applicants, just as for every Rolling Stones or Disturbed there are a thousand Good Rats. The competition is totes ridic, and whereas once one could piece together a decent freelance living, that's much harder now. Many smaller orchestras and theater/dance/performance groups have closed up shop, and others are trying to cheapshit their way through existence. The advent of streaming, too, far from 'empowering' recording musicians has often screwed them. I have a friend who used to record a lot with an ensemble- they've given up, because thanks to iTunes and similar predatory platforms, they went from making a buck or so from each CD sold down to 15 cents or thereabouts. There's no longer any financial incentive for them to record, if all it's going to do is make Apple richer, and since the platforms make piracy easier than ever, there's no real upside in many cases.  Sure, if you're a MEGAOOBERHUGE hip-hop star or something, the volume can make up for the fact that you're getting shafted by the companies.  Not at lower, more niche ends of the food chain. Streaming has also replaced the experience of concert-going for a lot of people- why go sit somewhere, when you can listen to your tunes while you're doing your taxes. Or driving on the freeway. Or whatever. Lacking education has caused audiences to dwindle- after all TV is free!- as, admittedly, has the ingrained conservatism of a lot of arts organizations, which has caused them to drift away from being relevant to a segment of the population. The two things work together to chip away at event attendance : the schools don't teach it, so people don't hear it, and it doesn't sound like what they want to listen to, and the players often don't look like them (more on the 'diversity' argument when I have more energy), so why should they bother?

And music schools keep graduating more people, to compete for fewer openings. Do the math.

Not to say you can't make a living, even an ok one- teaching still pays pretty well, at least until they decide that all arts classes a re a waste of time, when kids would better be served studying Amazon Consumer Appreciation 101 and Advanced Box Stacking, and there are still good gigs to be found (well, there were, at least, before the world shut down...)  But it's tougher than it was when I was in college, and it's not getting better.
« Last Edit: November 22, 2020, 02:59:13 pm by Nowherewoman »

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Re: The Glamourous Life
« Reply #17 on: November 23, 2020, 03:38:13 pm »
The Questions That Seriously Piss Me Off

Warning: minor rants ahead.


-"Well, you're doing it because you love it, right?  It's not for the money." Seriously? As if liking your job means you're OK with being underpaid, undervalued, and generally treated like crap? Not that this is always the case, but it happens. Often orchestral musicians are looked at as an expense rather than an asset, and we're the first to go when an orchestra is in trouble- not the music director or the exec, the highest-paid and thus most under-performing members of the staff of a failing org. The folks who actually produce the product.

 I'm sure, too, that al those obscenely-paid football players absolutely HATE their jobs, so the money is to make up for the loathing they feel for their lives and careers...

-"You should smile more. Why do you guys always look so serious?" Well, let's see. We are A) reading a symbolic language made up of several different symbol sets, with additional instructions in OTHER languages (French, Italian, German, English) as we B) Keep a constant count of not only beats but divisions of beats, often complex while C) performing strenuous small-muscle antics D) listening to the people around us to synchronize pitch, articulations, breathing, bow placement, and a dozen other fine details, and E) watching someone at some distance waving their hands in often seemingly random manners, interpreting what they want us to do via small gestures, grunts, and changes of facial expression.

I've taken to responding to this one by asking if the questioner is a sports fan. If they are, I ask them when the last time they saw their favorite pitcher/goalie/center/whatever grinning like an idiot on the field.  If anyone should, it's them, since they're making more per hour than I make in a week or more. To play a game. (and the horse you rode in under).


-"What's your real job?"  OK, this one requires a few caveats. It's true that audience members see us usually only for a few hours at a time, generally at night, and we often talk about our other gigs, the ones we often have to do to pay the bills.  They don't see the rehearsal time, usually.

But even the managements, who know what our schedules are, b/c they set them, like to play a similar game:  "Well, you're making x dollars, and you're only working for Y hours, so you're really OVERpaid, if anything." Conveniently ignoring all the at-home prep time for which we are not paid, the fact that we provide and maintain and move our own instruments and equipment at high expense (and often insure them as well), and the decades of study and experience that go into even getting to a place where you can have that argument.

For audience members, it's ignorance, and forgivable at times (though when you're a member of the only full-time arts organization in a state, and you still get that question...it does make you want to strangle someone). It ties in with the first two questions, an underlying assumption that 'music is easy', or you 'enjoy it', so it can't possibly be a job, can it?

With orchestra managements, it's malicious; a top-down management style inherited from Corporate America from whence so many of their ilk come (often with no experience in managing in the Arts, or any real knowledge of them- one ensemble in this area hired as Executive Director a banker who'd been remaindered from their job, their big qualification being they were a friend of a Board member. And hey, banking is harder and more important than managing a performance schedule, finding venues, dealing with a large number of employees...management is management, right?) In their world view it's the  management structure that's the important part. The most successful orchestra is the one that has no concert expenses, so they can just all show off their bespoke outfits at the yearly gala and talk about their 'jobs' at the Symphony and brag about how they've cut overhead, just like at their last job managing the deli department at Target...

OK, that's a little harsh- not all orchestras are run like that. A lot are, in spirit, however. At issue is the assumption that driving a truck, or box stacking, or sitting in an office acting important (or chasing a ball around on the grass) is 'work'. What I do isn't.

Did I mention that horse?

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Re: The Glamourous Life
« Reply #18 on: January 16, 2021, 11:01:05 am »
I came across this blog this morning, after a depression-induced informal absence from E and from writing in general.  I hope that you will continue, because as a semi-professional musician (I'm not one of the very very good and not one of the uber-lucky), many of these ideas and subjects are completely engaging.
 
Regarding Mozart if his father was anything other than a musician:  I suspect that Mozart could probably have become a great artist in any realm of creativity.  Attention to detail, a sense of proportion and balance, an affinity for beauty -- he has so many traits that, in my experience, can translate to other forms of art.  But based, again, on my own experience, I think that once he had been introduced to music in any way, he would have felt an irresistible pull. 
 
As for the greatest non-genius musician/composer, my money is on Puccini.  An opera director of some fame and/or notoriety, now deceased, used to call him "a first-rate second-rate composer."  :-)
 
And finally, I do take some comfort that the high notes in "Der Hölle Rache" were originally what we would today call an E-flat rather than an E.  It's a small distinction, but an important one.  Also, I do not have perfect pitch; but recently when I was singing a Handel aria with a harpsichord accompaniment, I knew that something was terribly wrong: partly because of how it felt in my body, but equally because of how it sounded to my ear.  It turned out the instrument had a pitch shift setting and the last person to play it had left it tuned down a half step.
 
Seriously, NWW, your thoughts and experiences are interesting and engaging, and wonderfully well presented.  I hope you choose to continue from time to time.


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Re: The Glamourous Life
« Reply #19 on: January 16, 2021, 11:23:19 am »
So glad you found something to take away from this, Trilby- planning on keeping it up, it's just that the next few planned posts are massive, and contain some slightly controversial stuff, so I've been dawdling.

Hope you're feeling a little better, too :D

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Re: The Glamourous Life
« Reply #20 on: January 23, 2021, 07:17:23 pm »
What Is This 'Classical' Stuff, Anyway?


To misquote the infamous judge, "I can't define it, but I know it when I hear it." The very term has problems in its usage, which we'll go into. I want to cover some of the stereotypes and misapprehensions about the genre of so-called 'Classical' music. Since it's a broad topic, this post is a WIP, and will be added to as I feel like it.


-It's all old stuff.  Not at all. Yes, a lot of the  'core' repertoire, at least for orchestra, comes from the late 17th-early 20th centuries, but there's plenty of music that fits the mold both older and as recent as last week. Academically, true 'Classical' music is only that which was composed between about 1730 and 1820. It was a breathing space, of a sort, a hiatus between the complexities of the High Baroque and the sprawling metastisis of Romanticism. Ludwig van Beethoven is generally considered the pivot point, with one foot on Mozart's neck and the other kicking Johannes Brahms in the butt. Or even Berlioz, given Beethoven's use of a huge orchestra and some rather on-standard instruments in the Ninth Symphony (contrabassoon especially).

The problem is that there's no good term to encompass the entire ouevre that extends from roughly the 14th century to yesterday. What most people call 'Classical' is a huge mosh of styles, from varying regions, and the only thing most can agree on is that it's not 'pop' or 'jazz'. Some jazz students I knew used to use the term 'legit' music, which was of course doing themselves a disservice. Other terms that are sometimes used but fit just as poorly are 'art', 'concert' or 'serious' music, all of which rely on denigrating other styles.

-All those dead white men. OK, there's some justice to this. Especially if we once again focus on the standard orchestral concert fare. Most concert instruments as we know them were invented (or at least developed in parallel to other countries) in Europe, as did our standard Western concepts of tuning, harmony, rhythm, and counterpoint. A European dominance in the concert hall is unsurprising, then, and the inherent sexism and racism of the age also led to it being a heavily male-dominated field.

Even then, there were some notable exceptions.  The Chevalier du St. George, for example, a black man who held rank in French society, was a virtuoso violinist and orchestra leader, as well as a fencing master. Or Amy M. Cheny Beach, who bridged the 19th and 20th centuries, famous as the first successful female symphonist (though for a long time, she was still referred to as 'Mrs. H.H.A. Beach'), and her near-contemporary Florence Price, the first African-American woman to have a work performed by a major orchestra (Chicago Symphony). Price's music is undergoing a sudden Renaissance, and it's quite good, at least what I've heard of it.

Contemporaneously with Ms. Cheny and Ms. Price, LatinX voices were gaining more prominence, such as the Mexicans Carlos Chavez and Silvestre Revueltas, and Brazilian Heitor Villa-Lobos. Now, women such as Jennifer Higdon, Joan Tower, and Jeanine Tesori are almost household names in the business.

None of which is to deny that there is still a severely conservative streak in the management of at least some orchestras. It's kind of a vicious circle: as audiences (and Symphony Boards) age, they become more set in their likes and dislikes, so managers are nervous about taking too many risks, so they don't program as diversely as they might, so younger audiences find the music less relevant, so the audiences get older...

A lot of major ensembles are starting to address this in their programming at last.

Offline Trilby

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Re: The Glamourous Life
« Reply #21 on: January 25, 2021, 01:23:20 pm »

That's a huge issue to try tackle and it really made me think about how to put what I think, or often feel, into words.
 
Trying to define “classical” music, in the non-academic sense, is probably an exercise in futility.  I don’t even always know it when I hear it.  Bach, Mozart, et al?  Absolutely.  Bob Dylan and Taylor Swift?  Absolutely not.  Leonard Bernstein?  Sometimes he was (“Chichester Psalms”), sometimes he wasn’t (“On the Town”, “West Side Story”).  How about John Williams and Alan Silvestri?  Yes?  No?  Maybe? 
   
There is an argument that “classical” music is all about the composer; while “non-classical” music (whether it be pop, jazz, cabaret, folk, etc) is all about the performer.  But we’re in a world where Aretha Franklin can sing Puccini’s “Nessun Dorma” (admittedly a sort of a stunt, stepping in for Pavarotti at the 1998 Grammy awards), and Paul McCartney and Andrew Lloyd Webber write pieces intended for the concert hall.  So where does the line get drawn?  Is it even possible? 
 
There are so many modern composers who are what these days are called “crossover” artists, but some of their pieces, to me, defy pigeonholing.  For just a single instance, look at George Gershwin, based solely on my own perceptions and how his music affects me:  His “Rhapsody in Blue”, to me, has a classical sensibility, while his “An American in Paris” is more jazz and pop, regardless of the fact that it was composed for a full symphony orchestra…  but how to classify “Porgy and Bess”?  It was conceived as an opera and written for classically trained (i.e. operatic) voices, which would seemingly classify it as “classical”; but its New York premiere was on Broadway rather than a traditionally classical music venue.  Some of the songs have a pop feel (“It Ain’t Necessarily So”, “I’m On My Way”, “A Woman Is A Sometime Thing”, “Summertime”) and some feel more classical (“My Man’s Gone Now”, “Bess, You Is My Woman Now”).  It’s both fish and fowl, at least to me.  And maybe I think of "Summertime" as leading more towards the "non-classical" because the first recording I heard of it was Janis Joplin's.  (Interestingly, while there are many “pop” composers who choose to write now and again in a “serious/classical” style, I don’t know of any modern “serious” composers who write “pop” music.  I thought a Google search would turn up a few oddities; I was wrong.  Still, I feel certain there are some that are slipping my mind, or that I’m not aware of.)
 
There’s one other thing that can separate “classical” music from the “non-classical”: outside of a number of easily-accessible pieces (Beethoven’s 6th Symphony, Orff’s “Carmina Burana”, Vivaldi’s “The Four Seasons”), classical music needs an educated ear.  With music education courses cut back or even eliminated from so many school systems, the Board of Directors of Symphony Orchestras face a terrible task.  How do you draw a younger audience (and keep the audience you have buying those season tickets) if they never have exposure to more complicated pieces than, say, "Hamilton" and movie scores? 
 
I started playing the violin when I was about 8.  When I was 10 or 12, my parents took me to a concert with Itzhak Perlman playing the Beethoven violin concerto, conducted by André Previn.  Also on the program was the Overture to “Candide”, “Scheherazade”, and a very modern (maybe atonal) cello concerto; my memory is that Previn was the composer, but I can’t find any mention of it online, so I may be wrong.  My parents were somewhat fond of the well-known, oft-played, easily-accessible classical music that our local (small, semi-professional) regional symphony orchestra played; they hated the cello concerto but loved everything else.  I remember being terribly bored by the cello piece, while even at that age, the Beethoven was awe-inspiring and the Overture was delightful; and I was literally moved to tears by “Scheherazade”.  I’ve wondered many times over the years what I would think of that cello concerto today, after decades of experience with increasingly sophisticated music. 


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Re: The Glamourous Life
« Reply #22 on: January 25, 2021, 01:52:47 pm »
We're going to get into a lot more of that, especially the education side of things. Education affects not only audiences, but the makeup of orchestras as well- the diversity issue.

And Previn did write a cello concerto back in 1967, very in the Expressionist vein.

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Re: The Glamourous Life
« Reply #23 on: January 25, 2021, 02:03:49 pm »
That would be exactly the right time frame.  Thanks!!