We have a lot to learn

 If virtuosic perfection at least were achieved, one could—in a forgetful moment—be satisfied with that. But one cannot even claim this, since the leisurely attitude of the majority of classical players toward rhythmic accuracy is simply appalling, and would seem so to more people were it not so widespread as to be generally accepted. There is no question in my mind that the classical world can learn much about timing, rhythmic accuracy, and subtlety from jazz musicians, as jazz musicians can in dynamics, structure, and contrast from the classical musicians.

Gunther Schuller, “The Third Stream”, 13 May 1961 in The Saturday Review of Literature, as collected in Musings: The Musical Worlds of Gunther Schuller

Just the blues

What kind of music were you playing on the jobs?

Blues. I’d play the blues all night long, just playing the blues.

You were playing for adults, then?

Yes. These were blues clubs, little holes in the wall-

Is that what they wanted?

Oh, yes. That’s all they would listen to.

The reason I’m questioning you so closely is I think that in many places during the fifties popular songs were more common than the blues.

Well, all these places wanted was the blues. A lot of the popular songs were blues, however.

Do you think that perhaps a different kind of music was more common in St. Louis among blacks than in other places? I mean, would this demand for the blues have come about because St. Louis was southern and somewhat “country” and, therefore, closer to genuine folk music?

I don’t know. But I do know that all you would hear in those clubs was the blues.

Eileen Southern interviewing composer Olly Wilson in 1977.

I don’t remember exactly how, but I recently discovered Wilson’s music and have been trying to learn more about him. The more of his music I hear, the more I wish it had been covered in my education. Oh well, no time like the present.

Southern, Eileen, and Olly Wilson. “Olly Wilson: The Education of a Composer.” The Black Perspective in Music 5, no. 1 (1977): 90-103. doi:10.2307/1214361. JSTOR permalink

Audience Building From First Principles

One of the things I love doing over school breaks is catching up on my well-intentioned Instapaper queue. I really like some of Aaron Gervais’s thoughts on audience building in this article I just caught up on from last year. In it, he addresses some of the failed attempts at audience building, and how we can and should be doing it better.

He describes some of the trendy classical-music-as-night-club events, and why they might appear to succeed, but fail in the goal of audience development because they are showcasing a type of experience that is in many ways fundamentally different than the thing we’re trying to build the audience for.

On a mashup of DJ sets and classical music:

Once the bouncer explained to [a group of nightclub attendees] what was happening, they left abruptly. People come to nightclubs to dance, so when these clubbers saw that the context of the nightclub was going to be taken over by some kind of classical music thing, their reaction was, “Let’s go somewhere else.” … There were obviously attendees who were there because they were regulars, but more than half the room of what looked like 200-300 people were clearly there either for Mason or one of the ensembles who were playing. … The end result didn’t feel like audiences coming together, it felt more like classical music colonizing another genre’s space.

Gervais makes some really interesting points about what communities are, and how we can use our understanding of communities to build one (or several) of our own. Crucially, communities are fundamentally exclusive. That isn’t to say that they’re snobby, just that they don’t include everyone, and that’s ok.

 Often in new music we are afraid to ask our audiences to push themselves. That’s a mistake. People like meaningful experiences that they have to work for. The trick is convincing them to expend the effort in the first place. To get there, we start with the advice above: build communities, then guide people into greater depth using MAYA [most advanced yet acceptable] techniques.

We have to assume that our audience is there to focus on what we’re presenting with an open and curious mind.

If you have any interest in presenting concerts and building an audience for what you do, this is a great read.

Aaron Gervais: This Is Why Your Audience Building Fails

My review of Symphony Pro 5 for iPad

In an ideal world, I would have an app that could run on my iPad Pro 12.9″, make use of my Apple Pencil to write as I would on paper, and still give me all the control, flexibility, and power of Sibelius, Finale, or Dorico. I know that I am not alone in my quest to find this miracle tool. Imagine being able to write as quickly and as freely as you might on paper, with all the expansive, creative space that comes with it, but yielding performance materials that were the match of anything from a major publisher. Symphony Pro 5 is not that app; but, after spending over a week exploring it, I’m pleased to say that it gets closer than anything I’ve used on iOS until now.

Continue reading Symphony Pro 5 takes several steps toward our mobile notation future on Scoring Notes.

Nothing New

In this week’s The New Yorker, Alex Ross tweaks the nation’s flagship orchestra and opera company for their stale repertoire in this newly opened season. Conservative programming at major performing arts presenters is nothing new; but, I think Ross makes a clever connection to another kind of conservatism that lends a bit more bite to an otherwise worn critique.

As the nation contends with its racist and misogynist demons, New York’s leading musical institutions give us canonical pieces by white males, conducted by white males, directed by white males. The Met’s productions this season feature no female composers, no female conductors, and no women directing new stagings. The Philharmonic’s main schedule, at David Geffen Hall, has one female conductor and one female composer.

Ouch.

Alex Ross: The Met and the Philharmonic Look Backward

Dumbing-down big-time opera

Anne Midgette, following on her review of the new Steve Jobs opera by Mason Bates, compares recent trends in new, big-budget operas to the era of “prestige television”.

… it led to the libretto of an opera called “The (R)evolution of Steve Jobs,” which had its world premiere at the Santa Fe Opera on July 22, in which Jobs’s wife, Laurene, sings, “You were never easy./ But once you found your way,/Discovered you were ‘human,’/ We found a way/To connect.”

One of these things is not like the other. In a book or a movie, the lines Laurene sings would be scorned as Hallmark-worthy, romance-novel sentiment: A woman turns the bad boy good. In opera, it seems, we’re willing to tolerate it.

This strikes me as the direct result of opera companies’ focus on past repertoire. The saccharine plot turns in Mozart and the melodrama of Puccini just seem stupid when people are singing about iPhones.

… Opera — which is considered one of the highest forms of art — tends to uphold its formulas, sticking to tropes a century or two old. And opera audiences are willing to hold opera to a different standard — which effectively means that the bar is set a lot lower.

Sometimes, your opera is Two Broke Girls. Sometimes, it’s The Wire.

Anne Midgette: “New opera wants the same appeal as television. If only it could be as smart.”

Magnetic Glissandi in Sibelius 8.6

Philip Rothman at Scoring Notes:

Sibelius 8.6’s new engraving feature is magnetic glissandi lines — lines that snap to both their start and end note, updating their positions if the notes change.

Magnetic glissandi lines are quite intelligent, expanding and contracting to move out of the way of augmentation dots and accidentals. They will even slope in the correct direction between two pitches that share the same space or line.

You’ve got to check out the examples in this post. Two years after the disappointing launch of Sibelius 8, this is the first new feature that has me interested in upgrading from Sibelius 7.5.

Perhaps the most dangerous and sneaky legislative action of the year so far

I try not to cry wolf about technology things. We can only shut down the Internet so many times. Electronic Frontier Foundation today:

Should President Donald Trump sign S.J. Res. 34 into law, big Internet providers will be given new powers to harvest your personal information in extraordinarily creepy ways. They will watch your every action online and create highly personalized and sensitive profiles for the highest bidder. All without your consent. This breaks with the decades long legal tradition that your communications provider is never allowed to monetize your personal information without asking for your permission first. This will harm our cybersecurity as these companies become giant repositories of personal data.

This wouldn’t be such a big deal if you could switch your ISP to somebody else. However, according to the FCC just last year, the vast majority of US households have only one option for broadband service[1]. This is in addition to the roughly 10% of households with no broadband at all, which disporportionately affects rural areas and tribal lands.

As the EFF points out above, this is also a huge security problem. These companies have not always been great stewards of user data in the past, and they haven’t cared due to the lack of competition. You can’t switch easily like you can on mobile broadband, where competition has driven prices down dramatically just in the last six months. Other companies are using your data as well, like Google. But, you can pretty easily avoid using Gmail if you want to. You can’t choose a company other than your local ISP if you know they have a history of data breeches. Now, they’re going to suck up all that juicy user data and make themselves even bigger targets, with no benefit to consumers and no oversight.

This is bad. Support the EFF. Call your Congresscritter.


  1. The FCC defines “broadband” in this use as any wired provider offering a minimum of 25Mbps download speeds and 3Mbps upload speeds.  ↩

Taping and Folding Parts Like a Professional

Usually, Sibelius Blog is where I go to learn about how to do something awesome in Sibelius with a new plugin, or what I’m missing in Finale, or what’s exciting and new in Dorico or StaffPad. But the one time I spoke with Sibelius Blog’s proprietor Philip Rothman, my compatriot Sam was completely taken by his paper folding machine. Sam and I have spent years learning how to make the software dance in all kinds of twisted ways, so it was the level of care in the final production we found most novel.

Today, Philip posted a fantastic tutorial on folding parts the right way, complete with video and his own fantastic dry humor.

So now if you were wondering how to show your affection this Valentine’s Day holiday, there’s something called a bone folder on my Amazon Wish List.