Rough Week for the Republicans? No Tears Shed…Rough MONTH for Musicians!

With the political season coming to a close and with much relief, we (the American Public) still have to endure the 24 hour news cycle of “He said, He said” for just awhile longer. But as the “political season” ends, the Symphony season begins—at least for some.

Philadelphia is still in the midst of restructuring as part of their Chapter 11 and Detroit miraculously is coming out of a tough six month strike, and if you read Slatkin’s new book, Conducting Business, and his commentary, he had a lot to do with getting Detroit back on its feet.  By the way, Maestro Slatkin, in spite of a catastrophic Met debut, heart problems, and other challenges, he has survived it all and keeps on going. Congratulations to him! He is an American Original. The New York Philharmonic will, however, open their rehearsals before their televised glitzy opening night. So things look good, but not for all.

My issue is this: How can we stand by and apathetically watch six or so orchestras teeter on the precipice of disaster?  St. Paul is struggling for their life and now we can add Jacksonville to the list of the war between management and musician. Wonder who will win? We have heard a lot about 99%, 47%, 1%; how about 20%. That seems even more popular than the other three.  That’s what management wants to cut from the pay and health benefits of the musicians. Jackson only has a 8 to 9 month season which pays around $35,000 give or take; and management wants to cut, let’s say it together now, 20%.! These are not millionaire baseball players, these are hardworking musicians trying to support their families with their symphony gig, give private lessons, and practice so they can keep the jobs they already have. Being a musician can often be a solitary life with plenty of stress piled on; hours of practicing, running around the country (at your own expense) playing auditions. Being the best and proving to all that you really are is just another day at the office.

The importance of keeping our cultural heritage alive is so important for many reasons. Politicians talk about jobs; well our orchestras provide jobs for musicians including composers, technicians, and stage hands. Orchestras can revive a dying downtown area and can encourage the opening of restaurants and other stores. Orchestras bring people together of all likes and dislikes, with no prejudice to your political affiliation. And what is most important, concerts offer a chance to escape, to feel good, or just to feel. Programs foster opinions, discussions, sometimes even unruly behavior….at least some sort of reaction rather than the lazy texting couch potatoes we have become to be. (By the way, to that conductor at Weber State, what were you thinking stopping a concert to tell a handicapped person to get the h$#$ out because of some extraneous noise…that should keep ‘em coming back! Sometimes musicians shoot themselves in the foot!).

Why is the selling of our Orchestras such a tough sell? Everyone certainly has their own opinion on that one. I still think the snob effect is still there though I do hear about orchestras giving concerts in all sort of venues. Slatkin’s presence in Detroit, giving lectures, talking to the audience, having a strong commitment to the community has been a terrific help. Young kids just don’t like classical music…if I had a buck for every time I heard that excuse. Example: I came home one day and I heard some beautiful Mozart being played on somebody’s cell phone (it’s after all the 21st Century). A little unusual considering this is a house with a two teenagers and a 10-year-old boy who believes he is Spider-Man or Zeus, (depends what book he’s reading). My 14-year-old was listening to this music while she was doing her homework. Told me that classical music helps with homework. WOW…ice cream for all! Who says the Mozart Effect is an urban legend? If this type of music can speak to a 14-year-old, it can speak to all of us.

When I travel to other countries to guest conduct, my concerts are quite often sponsored by several large companies as well as the Ministry of Culture. Like universal health care (I know I’m treading on thin ice here), why are we the only country that has running water but no representation on the same level of the, say, the Secretary of Education. Our water, our roads, our forests, even our air all are represented in Washington, all except the Arts. The annual NEA hearings are excruciating watching the Director beg to keep the endowment alive and being forced to answer silly questions about why this art exhibit was funded, why that theatre company was funded and on and on.

I would like to see a Secretary of Culture in the President’s Cabinet. At the very least, this would elevate the arts to national attention and finally convince our doubters that the Arts is as important as breathing clean air, educating our children, and protecting our country. These are ALL important to our American way of life. Could we not get a million signatures on a petition to hand to the President? Wouldn’t that make all those thousands of hours huddled in a smelly practice room worth every minute? Don’t get me wrong, the NEA is great and I applaud those Directors who had to stand before the subcommittee and make a case for Arts; Make a case for the Arts!…what a very sad state of affairs if that’s what we have to do to keep our cultural institutions alive. Do we have to make a case for safe food and roads?

To both political parties and their rich donors, you don’t know what a terrible week is until they lock you out of the place you work! That’s a terrible week!

Morality and Music

A June 18 concert scheduled at Tel Aviv University featuring selections from Wagner’s Der Ring des Nibelungen, to be led by Israeli conductor Asher Fisch, was called off after angry protests erupted. The University claimed to have not been fully informed about the program and its presenter organization, the Israel Wagner Society.

Give me a break! Wagner at a Tel Aviv University?

English: Leigh Engineering Faculty Boulevard, ...

English: Leigh Engineering Faculty Boulevard, Tel Aviv University Photographed by Ido Perelmutter (Ido50). (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Don’t we conductors think about our audience when we plan our repertoire? A little sensitivity here in a world full of violent insensitivity is a no-brainer and is called for. Of all the composers to be chosen to perform, Wagner was chosen? Art must triumph over all! Who knows the real story, but with factions of the world in religious turmoil, can’t music be an oasis, albeit a temporary one?



My answer was posted on:

If only today’s audiences would show the same raw emotion…


What a difference 100 years makes!

THE RITE OF SPRING,” or (“Le Sacre du Printemps”), Igor Stravinsky’s historic shocker of a ballet that shows and celebrates a human sacrifice, will be 100 years old next May. 

Though it created a near riot in Paris when it was premiered, it was actually Diaghilev’s choreography that caused the audience into a mob rather than Stravinsky’s music itself as many believe. The music could hardly be heard over the outcries of scandal. “Things got as far as fighting.” Stravinsky told his friend.

Today, Stravinskys third ballet for the Russian dancer is part of the repertoire.  No riot; maybe a lot of coughing but that occurs for any piece.

Boy what I wouldn’t give for today’s audiences to show a little bit of that same raw emotion; maybe not a riot but at least a little episode of being slightly upset!

Image: “Shocker Cools Into a ‘Rite’ of Passage” – NY Times [Music]

A Story of Tenacity. There is nothing you cannot accomplish if you are willing to work hard for it!

One of the great perks of being a conductor and a teacher is having the opportunity of meeting some incredible people along the way. When I was in China, I met a group of young musicians first starting out playing in an orchestra. I had the thrill to work with them for several weeks. Then there was the time when I was conducting in the old Soviet Union (many years ago) and I muttered to myself, after a long rehearsal, “Boy, I wish I had a beer.” The next day one of the percussionists of the Orchestra, definitely not a rich man, laid a case of beer on my podium.

There have been times of great inspiration as well–where one particular young woman comes to mind.

She was 17 when she arrived in the United States, but due to some personal circumstances, she came to this country without any documents of the years of hard (music) work she produced while in high school. This alone would have frustrated most of us to just give up. Not to mention that her English was minimal to boot. What she did in the next 18 months is nothing short of astounding.

She needed to learn English first so she found a local free ESL class and went to class on a regular basis and before long learned English, just like that. This studious Latina from Brazil had bigger dreams; to attend a University in the United States, but she had no diploma or grade transcripts to show what classes she took and excelled in. Though this would be a roadblock to many, it was not one to her. She took the G.E.D. exam and went to a community college for a year. Still not enough for her, she had a dream and was determined to fulfill it. She applied to several major Universities after studying for and eventually taking the incredibly difficult and ominous S.A.T.s.

With all that behind her, she is now living her dream. Presently she is a full-time second year student at the prestigious University of Virginia with hopes of being accepted into their world-renown School of Business.

I might also mention that this bright, highly motivated young woman is my daughter!

Gabriela, the best of luck to you as you embark on this wonderful journey! I am in awe of what you have accomplished in less than two years; your family loves you and is so very proud of you.

Hopefully, others will read this story and realize there is nothing you can’t accomplish if you are willing to work hard, show great tenacity and have a burning desire to be the best.

Post Script to Marvin: We’ll continue playing HIS song

In this season of political rancor and of foreign governments attacking their own citizens, it’s a good time for all of us to step back  and take a deep breath and seek out something that will whisk us away, at least for a little while.

Marvin Hamlisch–The Man and His Music— is what is right with life. His melodies will live on even if the man himself is gone. I was appalled regarding how little time was spent by our news markets in commemorating this man’s great contribution to making our lives that much better; he was a real Mensch.

I was one of the fortunate fans who met Mr. Hamlisch in person. Several years ago, he presented a solo performance at a neighborhood venue and I was lucky enough to be in the audience. It was just an empty stage, a grand piano, a hand mike, and Hamlisch. He played his music, played other people’s music, bantered back and forth with the capacity audience, and showed his relaxed personable side while performing flawlessly on the piano. His arrangements from film and theater were full and romantic, but music of the stage in particular was certainly his forte.

About halfway through the program, he stopped suddenly, and blurted out, “Wait a minute, I hear a certain song!” Then after two piano chords, two local college students literally flew out of the wings of the stage, crossed downstage and much to the surprise and joy to all of us, began singing Hamlisch’s own award-winning They’re Playing Our Song.” The improvised choreograph was professional and the crowd loved it. I knew these two musical theater majors and after the show I went backstage to congratulate them and to meet Mr. Hamlisch. He truly was “the real thing” on AND off the stage; sincere, funny, and charming. A great night for me.

I mourn his passing; we have lost one of the Greats. He had so much more to show us.