Tag Archives: community engagement

twelve drummers drumming

well i’m snowed in here in baltimore, which presents the unique opportunity to either a) get a lot of things accomplished or b) do absolutely nothing. you can take a guess how the day played out. in any case, a handful of musical tidbits for this particular season:

  • a fabulous post from the guys over at Amusicology, on, ironically enough, how to get to work on your dissertation. i should really implement this…
  • this is the season when everyone puts out a christmas album (much to my dismay) and my time working at the gap has taught me to guard your music wisely! Pandora is working well as i made a “This Christmas” radio station (after the classic Donny Hathaway song & my favorite christmas song), try it out if you’re looking for some new music.
  • a yule log doesn’t hurt (even if it’s electronic)

this past week has been interesting and has raised a lot of issues and thoughts that, i suppose, need addressing. i’ve been taking a class this semester called Community Engagement and we all had to give final projects at the end of the year. mine took place on friday — a selection of musical theater songs with some theater games and info at a baltimore city middle school. over all it went well but there were moments when i wondered if i knew what i was doing. first, what we were up against: middle schoolers. no matter what part of the country, what class, race or socio-economic strata, middle schoolers are all the same. too cool for everything and hormones, hormones, hormones. so the thought of getting 20 kids to listen to me talk about rodgers & hammerstein seemed highly unlikely. and i was right, partly. the first group of kids (all girls, actually) was really excited and seemed cooperative. the group that followed wanted nothing to do with me and i choked. i learned a valuable lesson, many, actually, and tried to keep moving forward. my performers were unfazed which is testament to their professionalism and willingness.

but how do you lose the academic veneer that you’ve been working on? how do you make music history approachable to 13 year olds? i had an interesting conversation with my performers before we started about how to reach people. in the last year of my undergraduate, my new music ensemble along with students from the drama department took a full version of Stravinsky’s L’histoire on tour. our second stop was a high school in bay ridge (brooklyn) where we performed parts of l’histoire and parts of Steve Reich’s Drumming. they seemed unimpressed, at best. my pianist mentioned that they may just not have known how to express interest because, let’s face it, who hears Reich and Stravinsky live in their high school?

so i hoped in vain that part of this project would hit home and i think it did. an adorable 7th grader came up to our vocalist asking all sorts of questions. made me feel good even if i kind of flaked. (if you’re wondering, i got a B+ in the class which was to be expected). i think sometimes, we’re so caught up in academia and the impractical aspects of our field that we forget about their very practical applications. as far as getting out in the community, i’m a little rusty but i plan on rectifying that (in the form of an internship at the BSO’s ORCHkids program). how many musicologists, professors or what have you would have been able to do what i did on friday or would have even entertained the idea? if middle schoolers and church goers and kids at the Y don’t know about a symphony, what’s the point?

you can contend that point if you wish. my platform is that there isn’t one, but that’s just my take.

for something a little less existential…i was lucky enough to receive, as a thank you for my GA work, two tickets to the Berlin Philharmonic’s Digital Concert Hall from my advisor. i’m taking advantage of this present tomorrow and watching Donald Runnicles conduct Brahms’ Ein deutsches Requiem. i really have fallen in love with this thing, on so many levels. for the inner tech geek in me, the quality of this is just outstanding, from the website to the actual production. it’s a pleasure to watch and feels like a grand event. and, of course, the music is just first rate. it seems that this is a venture that the Berlin Phil is strongly behind, using it to allow people all over the opportunity to hear great music. their outreach program that is tied in with this (with the help of Deutsche Bank) is also outstanding. so maybe it is related to what i discussed before. programs like this and the Met Live in HD (their cinema showings and their online player) make me slightly less worried about the future. it’s work on both ends of the scale that matter.

well, if i don’t see you before the new year, merry christmas and happy holidays. relax, be safe and love one another. i’ll leave you with a song from my very well guarded christmas mix, James Taylor’s cover of Joni Mitchell’s classic, River.

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why music matters; joyeux anniversaire!

[i’m in the midst of a december 15th hiatus so i figured i should write and write fast!]

this semester, i have only taken one class on the books. it happens to be the first iteration of Community Engagement/Creativity, a class focused on helping music students work outside of the conservatory. now this class has done a lot of great things for me but i think one of the best is the final project. now my final project is a little pedestrian and i’m not here to talk about it. what i am talking about is the final project of one of my classmates.

he decided to put together an orchestra of students, composers and conductors whose sole mission is community outreach. the debut performance was to take place tomorrow at a mid-level correctional facility. yes, jail. everyone was super excited because this is the kind of thing we felt we should be doing, not for some politically correct reason but because we felt that everyone should get to hear this music, any music, and it’s our job to bring it at any cost. well at our rehearsal tonight (i’m playing principal bassoon/giving pre-concert notes), we were informed by the director of correctional facilities that everyone was really excited about this performance and wanted to be a part, all the way up to the lieutenant governor — but they couldn’t make it on saturday so it needs to be rescheduled. for some reason, they thought we’d reschedule it for some day in the next week or so. what they failed to realize is that we are in our last week of classes and everyone is leaving. the concert is now indefinitely postponed until february.

so besides general frustration, why does this matter? well, this concert was never for bureaucrats. and policy and press dictating music-making? unthinkable. but our collective hands were tied so here we are. luckily, the orchestra is performing a concert on sunday as well but it’s not the same. i see this as a hurdle that will reappear in the future. it’s easy to latch oneself on to a project like this for whatever type of notoriety you might seek. for us, it’s always been about the music.

is this problem systematic of a bigger problem in our culture? most likely. we suffer from wanting to be recognized and acknowledged by the state while still having the creative freedom to do as we will. it’s a system that America has struggled with always. the concept of the patron is one that has eluded us. even so, new music and art have survived and continued, though, underground. do we deal with the devil and hope we’ll find a way to squeeze in our own artistic vision out from underneath the weight of the pact? now, especially, is the time to consider our options.


but enough of that sad talk, let’s talk about birthdays! thursday was the birthday of French composer and ornithologist Olivier Messiaen and friday the birthday of Elliott Carter, still kicking out music at the youthful age of 101. Messiaen and Carter are two composers to which i return often, partly because the amount of scholarship on them is not as dense as other composers. early in my undergraduate studies, i got a lot of flack for being a Carter fan until i started working with clarinetist Charles Neidich and two of my dearest friends (a flutist and clarinetist) who did nothing but play Carter all the time (and ate it for breakfast). just the intensity and virtuosity of his music won me over immediately. i liked sitting in a rehearsal saying, “i don’t know what the fuck is going on…but i want to.” and of course with Messiaen, i just wished he wrote something i could get my hands on. instead, i have to live through every pianist and cellist i know and pretend that all of those lush vast expanses of chords were built for me. i hope that as i continue in my career, the level of scholarship on these two composers will grow. till then, joyeux anniversaire.

and of course, here’s Pierre-Laurent Aimard playing Carter’s Two Diversions and Messiaen’s Regard de l’Esprit de Joie.

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