Sunday, December 31, 2006

A Fond Farewell to 2006

A quick note before I go off to a couple of New Year's Eve parties.

We often use January 1 as a time to make "resolutions," which most of us tend not to keep very long. I have made one resolution--to switch to a (primarily) vegan diet. I'm overweight and a prime candidate for diabetes, given my large belly and family history.

A long-ago friend recently got in touch with me and in the catching-up phase of our email exchange said he's had a great life since we last saw each other 28 years ago. I loved that--a "great life"! So much of the time I am focused on what's wrong with my life. So inspired by my friend, I thought I'd use tonight and tomorrow to celebrate the year that past.

  • My teenagers are in great health, have wonderful friends, are doing great in school, are wonderful musicans and actors, and one dances and the other swims. Neither drinks nor smokes nor seems to have any built-up resentments against their mother or I. How did that happen!
  • My parents are in good health, and my mother is starting to enjoy her retirement.
  • My brother-in-law had a horrible stroke that we thought would kill him or leave him severely mentally and physically disabled. In a near-miracle, he's walking and conversing intelligently and continuing to make great strides in his recovery.
  • I've made many new friends through my improvisation work, organized a successful summer chamber music series, and had one of the best musical years ever.
  • I love teaching more than ever, too.
Oh, I just realized I've blogged one of those Christmas letters.

Life is good. Celebrate the joys in your own life, and Happy New Year!

Friday, December 29, 2006

Might as well lie back and enjoy it

My paternal grandfather, a brilliant man and shrewd business executive, spent his last ten years or so, after my grandmother died, doing basically just four things: grocery shopping, cooking, watching television (lots of television) and a small amount of reading. My father, a brilliant retired lawyer, does pretty much the same, to the chronic frustration of my mother, and the occasional judgmental comments of his children. What a waste it sometimes seems.

Today, I slept in late and then spent most of the day in bed, doing what? Watching television. It was a Smallville marathon on one of the cable networks. I've never seen that much of the series, but as a boy I was enthralled with Superman and Superboy comics, and so Supermanish things have an attraction for me. I might never have gotten out of bed had it not been for a private student coming for a lesson at 5:00 PM.

In the midst of all this, I had another of those horrifying mid-life realization: I am not just "turning into" my father, I have already become my father.

I was feeling bad about this (not bad enough to turn off the TV, though), when it hit me: I was quite enjoying this slothful afternoon of rest, in all its delicious, lowbrow irresponsibility. And my father is not unhappy. On the contrary, he seems to quite enjoy the balance of his life now. There is no denying that he did much good for many people during his career, and that he was a good provider and is a faithful husband and loving father. If he likes watching Jeopardy and reruns of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? and All in The Family and Gunsmoke, so what? And my grandfather--he, too, seemed quite content in his later years.

So I'm a little less worried about the fact that I may spend much of my later years watching television, cooking, eating, and driving my children to frustration. If that's my destiny, well, I might as well relax and enjoy it.

Say, where did I put that remote?

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Gerald Ford, RIP

I was just 16 when Gerald Ford became president. I had mixed feelings, and some suspicions, when he pardoned Richard Nixon.

I have no memory of the remarkable event I just watched on C-Span: Ford's October 1974 self-initiated, voluntary appearance, under oath, before the House Judiciary Subcommittee to explain his reasons for granting the pardon and to answer questions.

What a truly remarkable event in the history of government of, by, and for the people.

In my final years of high school I gave little thought to politics, and never developed much of an opinion about Ford; the media caricatures of him as a stumbling, not-too-bright guy had some effect on me. What I just saw, a sitting president testifying (intelligently, articulately, and and with an authentic air of principle, patriotism, and passion) to a Congressional committee at his own request to explain and defend a highly controversial decision, has given me the highest respect for this man. And what a remarkable contrast with the slick evasiveness and public lies of President Clinton (whom I greatly admire in other ways) and what appears to be the tragic disconnect with reality of President Bush (whose good intentions have paved the road to the hell of our Iraq debacle).

Surely President Ford realized that the pardon might cost him election in 1976, yet he firmly believed it was the best thing for the country, and did it despite the potential political cost. He was an honest, decent man who acted as a statesman at a time when we so needed it.

Every once in a while something reminds me of the greatness of this country. Watching Ford's stunning testimony was one of those moments. Thanks, Mr. President, and rest in peace.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Acts of kindness

I'm visiting my parents in Tampa, and have two nice chain-reaction kindness stories to share.

On the flight down, a mom and three kids (10, 5, and 3) were among the last to board our sold-out Southwest open-seating flight. I had a nice window seat, because I wanted to nap. The middle seat was empty. Be nice, my better self told me, and so I smiled and offered to move to a middle seat a couple of rows back, which would make at least a pair of seats available. That started a short chain reaction. The lady sitting on the aisle in my original row was sitting across from her husband. The middle seat beside him was open, so she did her good deed and moved to it. Voila! All three kids could sit together. The man in the aisle seat directly behind the kids moved to the middle so the mom could have easy access to the kids. Then the guy in the aisle seat across the aisle offered to switch to that seat, and now the mom and kids could see each other.

It was such a lovely energy; actually heart-warming. And we were all repaid when the three children spontaneously began singing "Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer" with such innocent happiness that everyone smiled that special smile that only comes when adults are around happy children doing something delightful.

Then, as the engines revved up as we were about to take off, one of the kids started a countdown: "10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 . . . . . . . BLAST OFF!" And not quite two hours later, when they saw water beneath the plane, came the shouted announcement, "WE'RE IN FLORIDA! WE'RE IN FLORIDA!"

Best flight I've ever been on.

This afternoon, my mother and I went to Barnes and Noble to do a bit of browsing and and have some coffee. The wife of the retired-age couple ahead of me in the Starbuck's line was delightfully friendly and chatty with the, oh, what do they call them, the barrista. Then a few minutes later she invited a man by himself, who was looking for a table without late afternoon sun glaring on the table, to join them. He declined, but I was happy to see someone so open and friendly that I went to their table and invited them to help themselves to the half-priced box of mini biscotti I had purchased for Mom and I to have with our coffee.

The friendly couple invited us to join them. I accepted; my mother gave me a look tinged with suspicion and irritation, but came over. We ended up having a wonderful time. The husband is a retired history professor. My mother is a recently retired music professor, and so there we were, three professors and the really fun one, the professor's wife. We must have chatted for two hours. The friendly couple and my mother exchanged numbers, and a new friendship may be developing.

Last night, my parents and I watched The Bishop's Wife on TCM. Cary Grant plays a very handsome angel sent to help an Episcopal bishop (David Niven) deal with a spiritual crisis as well as some marital problems with his wife (Loretta Young). At one point, Grant's character says, "I just wish human beings would act more . . . like human beings."

It's nice to be part of it when we do.

Friday, December 22, 2006

Teaching kids, living in fear

From an anonymous poster, commenting on Dealing with the Baggage:

I am a gay elementary school teacher, and let me tell you, I work in an unbelievably hostile environment. I am NOT safe, and the proven positive results I have attained at work DO NOT make my job secure. All of the work I've done could be ripped away from me at any moment, and I feel positive that absolutely no one would be willing to defend me. I don't mean to be overly negative about this, but I'm telling the truth.
The essay to which he's responding focused in part on the horrible effects of government-sanctioned propaganda, particularly that which defined homosexuality in men as a "sickness" and equated it with pedophilia and ephebophilia (attraction to teenagers) and a compulsion to act on such feelings. The effects, and those of the rhetoric of Religious Right alarmists and those pandering to them, are very much still with us.

The man who wrote this comment is probably a great guy who has a gift for teaching children and is making a positive impact on their lives.

And he lives in fear.

Current Reading


Greg Sandow has another episode posted in his online book-in-progress on the future of classical music. We'll, he's still dealing with the past, on modernism now. Understanding the past and present is key to developing ideas for the future, of course, and everything Greg writes is fascinating.

DePauw music education student Chris Simerman has started a blog, Music and Music Education. It's a great opportunity to watch a really bright young man who is really in love with music and really dedicated to being a teacher develop his thinking and share his insights.

I often feel frustrated that more of my colleagues don't share my view that many of our students are as, or, in some cases, more, bright and talented than we are, and that with fresh eyes and youthful energy unhampered by the failures, disappointments, and desire to repeat successes that creates the particular glass through which all adults peer, they have much from which we can learn. Of course, age brings experience and knowledge worth passing on and here's one tidbit. Click on the third icon from the left in the toolbar at the top of the window for entering text on the "create post" page, Chris, and it will spellcheck your post.

Heavy-Reading Department:

I'm engrossed with Linda Goehr's fascinating book The Imaginary Museum of Musical Works, and also digging into The Musical Work: Fact or Fiction, a compilation of symposium essays edited by Michael Talbot, inspired by Goehr's thesis, that the idea of the fixed, inviolate musical work is a construct of Romantic thought. Her ideas, and the elaborations on, objections to, etc., them are having a great impact on my developing thought on the role of improvisation in the WECT (Western European Classical Tradtion--an acronym developed by Leo Treitler (from whom I almost took a course, named simply enough, "Rhythm," in graduate school; I dropped it after one session because I couldn't begin to follow what the graduate theory students were saying; they would expound, Treitler would gently explain that they were spouting bullshit [of course, he didn't use that term], and say something I could understand; nevertheless, I figured I was either out of my league, or that it would be a frustrating exercise in academic blathering, or both).

Reading the Goehr and Talbot books is part of a long detour into works on musical philosophy and aesthetics which began when I first began skimming through Bruce Ellis Benson's The Improvisation of Musical Dialogue, which was the first book to show me that the diminishment of improvisation (of actual notes) in the WECT was a result not just of an evolution in practice and increasing skill in notation, but even more a reflection of a profound shift in the understanding of music and of the roles of composer and performer. It's now nearly nine months since Benson's book sent me on an intellectual detour which brought the writing of my book on improvisation to a virtual halt. And what a fascinating, absorbing, and exciting journey it has been.

I Love Questia:

I'm reading The Musical Work: Fact or Fiction online, via Questia. I just love Questia. I can afford the twenty bucks or so a month it costs, and it makes it possible to read so many works immediately, and, when traveling, without dragging them around. I found the book through an Amazon search, saw it looked interesting and relevant, and in a few moments had the entire text available to me. The "Internets" are amazing.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Matthew Barley

Matthew Barley is a terrific Brit cellist. I love his CD Silver Swan, which I've had for a while. In terms of really fascinating and well-done multi-track recording, he's right up there with David Darling and Maya Beiser.

I just came across his website. Fabulous. One of the best websites of any classical/post-classical performer I've ever seen (only criticism: if you are going to start a blog, then blog). And a great article on improvisation (which is how I found it).

Friday, December 15, 2006

Mr. Bigglesworth

Just after I bought my rundown 1888 Victorian-style house in 2002, I hired a couple of guys to mow the overgrown lawn. They found a tiny kitten, more the size of a large caterpillar than a kitten you'd expect to find on its own. My kids and I literally got an eyedropper with which to feed him (we also found that dipping the corner of a washcloth in the formula worked, too). We doubted he'd make it, but he did. It wasn't long before he was out getting into fights and we had him neutered.

I was stumped on what to name him. My son was in a Monty Python phase at the time, and chose "Knigget." I went along with it, since I couldn't decide on anything else. The kids called him Knigget for a while, but it wore off, and we took to addressing him as "kitty" and referring to him as "the cat." We tried various names on and off, but nothing stuck.

I developed a serious relationship, and my partner started calling him "Mr. Cat." That was perfect, we all agreed. It worked well until my partner moved out without notice, leaving me dazed, confused, angry and relieved all at once. The words "Mr. Cat" would triggering all sorts of post getting-dumped feelings. So the poor thing (actually oblivious and indifferent to all this) was back to "kitty" and "the cat" and, on formal occasions such as trips to the vet, "Knigget."

But now tonight, a private student just left. During her lesson, the cat was weaving in and out of us, rubbing against me. I picked him up and spontaneously said, "come here, Mr. Bigglesworth."

Now that feels right. I don't have that much of a Dr. Evil air about me (or so I think), but like many arts types I live in my own egocentric universe. For tonight, anyway, Mr. Bigglesworth he is.

(If you don't get the "Mr. Bigglesworth" reference, well, you are even more out of touch and uncool than am I!)

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

We are all human (inconsistent intonation)

Anne Midgette gives cellist Efe Baltacigil's recent Weill Hall recital a mixed review today.

Efe Baltacigil, a young Turkish cellist, is a personable performer. On Friday night he came onto the stage at Weill Recital Hall with a dark, mottled cello, an agreeable manner and an accompanist named Anna Polonsky, then settled into Bach’s Sonata in G (BWV 1027) like an adept conversationalist — all ears, visibly responding to what the music was telling him.

The music was delightful. Mr. Baltacigil’s tone was warm, rich and a little throaty in a pleasant way, like a good Scotch. Bach lilted and danced; Mr. Baltacigil danced along.

What a great description of a cello sound: "warm, rich and a little throaty in a pleasant way, like a good Scotch."

She obviously loved his music making in the Bach G Major and the Franck A Major sonatas except for one issue: some intonation problems. "Mr. Baltacigil’s uppermost notes weren’t quite right, and the final movement of the Bach sonata kept drifting slightly flat," she noted about the Bach. And in the Franck, "Mr. Baltacigil appeared to reach the pinnacle of his expressivity. Yet again the tang of faintly sour notes wafted from the emotive phrases. The music finished with excitement but out of tune."

I have great empathy for Efe. To have reached his increasingly prominent position in the cello world, he obviously can play in tune in the high registers of the cello. You don't get into the Philadelphia Orchestra, in any seat, otherwise.

So what happened? Nerves make the hands too tight? Not quite enough practice? Overwhelmed by the rest of his schedule? Tired? Or just really going for the creative, expressive aspects and some of the intonation getting a bit off?

I can play dead in tune, and often do. But any of the above can result in some intonational lapses in my own playing, especially in thumb position (the high registers) with pieces new to me, or if I'm so busy with other things (that full-time college professor job and the three teenagers can make life overwhelming) that I don't have enough time or energy to practice as much as I'd like. Good intonation was the most difficult thing for me to achieve in my cello playing, and it is the first thing to start to slip if I don't practice regularly.

I've heard plenty of well-known cellists play out of tune, so Efe and I are in good company--as are all the other fallible human beings playing the cello (and other instruments).

And one thing's for sure--I'd rather hear a fully-alive, creative performance with some occasional intonation mishaps than a dull, safe one that is note-perfect.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Those Colorado Closets Keep Opening

What's going on in Colorado? The New York Times reports another conservative pastor has resigned from his church (this one with "only" 2,000 members, not the 14,000 of Ted Haggard's former church) because he's been having gay sex while in an opposite-sex marriage and, surely, preaching against same-sex marriage and the dangers of the "homosexual agenda."

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. (AP) -- Just weeks after the senior pastor at a huge Colorado church was fired over gay sex allegations, the founding pastor of another church in the state is quitting for similar reasons.

This time it's Paul Barnes, whose suburban Denver congregation saw a videotaped message yesterday. On it, Barnes acknowledges having gay sex, saying he's "struggled with homosexuality" since age five, and has been "begging God" for help.

Paul, it's OK to be gay. Love yourself as you are.

And once again I have much empathy for his family and for his struggle.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Existing Career Skill Programs for Classical Music Students

As noted in my previous entry, I'm beginning to research what various conservatories and schools of music are doing to equip their students to "create their own careers," as my DePauw students and I have come to phrase it.

Curtis Institute:
Curtis requires all BM and Diploma students to take “The 21st Century Musician,” described on its website as, “This class examines career-oriented topics such as obtaining a job, management, orchestra life, medical matters and record-keeping.”

Indiana University Jacobs School of Music has not quite the best-designed website in the world; it's hard to determine from it what, if any, career development services are offered. It's not far from where I live, though, and I haven't heard about anything through the grapevine. It does offer an “Introduction to Music Business” course which I understand is quite popular

Eastman School of Music: Eastman, among other resources, hosts the Institute for Music Leadership, with a fascinating array of programs for performers, arts administrators, etc., including an Entrepreneurship in Music program.

Juilliard: Juilliard offers Career Development Seminar (MSMUS 505) and Business of Music (GRMUS E610; students must complete one of them to be placed on the schools Professional Artists Roster. Juilliard also has a Career Planning Services office, which offers Individual Career Consultations, Career Seminars and Workshops, Speaking Up! (a weekly public speaking club), and Performing Resume Software. Juilliard also offers Greg Sandow's course "Breaking Barriers: Classical Music in an Age of Pop," which inspired much of my first-year seminar work this fall and seems quite groundbreaking in looking at creating a new paradigm for performing art music.

New England Conservatory: NEC has what looks like a fabulous program: the Career Services Center. It's run by my former Stony Brook cello classmate Angela Myers Beeching, who wrote Beyond Talent: Building a Successful Career in Music, and who teaches a four-course "Professional Artist Seminar" sequence. Here's a conservatory taking post-school life seriously. Looking at the table of contents and an excerpt from Angie's book on Amazon, I think I can say that it is a book every aspiring classically-trained performer should read, and I've ordered it--both for myself and the DePauw library.

Oberlin has an Office of Career Services, but I don't see where they offer any courses or workshops in career building, entrepreneurship, etc.--so someone correct me if I'm wrong.

More to come! And please feel free to send me other links and descriptions.

Creating Your Own Career

As my first-year seminar “Creativity, Non-Western Music, and the Future of Classical Music” progressed, the students and I eventually came to reframe it as “creating your own music, creating new audiences, and creating your own career.” The students had two-week rotations with other professors on Dalcroze Eurythmics, Writing About Music, The Effect of Technology on Music, and training sessions on music technology (especially notation software) and library skills. It was quite a tour for the students, and so my section and I had only six weeks of fourteen together. Non-Western music, unfortunately, ended up getting short shrift. We learned to play several drum parts of a West African festival piece, “Jansa,” and discussed in a basic way differences between much traditional African music and "classical" music, but focused mostly on improvisation and their final concert project, described in the numerous “Musical Buffet” entries below.

The "creating your own career" aspect of this just-concluded seminar, and some recent presentations I’ve heard, got me wondering about what other music schools are doing in preparing performance majors to create their own careers. Adult classical musicians have known for decades that there are very few full-time performing jobs for classical musicians; the idea that if you just get really good and take enough auditions you’ll land a job was unrealistic 30 years ago and is even more so now. There are so many amazing players and so few job openings that even for the top players it's more of a lottery than a traditional job search. Young musicians need to know this as well.

While that seems lile bad news, many young musicians taking an entrepreneurial approach, not just to creatively marketing performances of traditional classical music, but to creating new repertoire and new audiences. I’ve always felt that the string quartet Kronos was the best example. There are many more, newer, role models out there (Anonymous Four, Bang on a Can, Eighth Blackbird, etc.).

I started a summer chamber music series two years ago, and so I’ve been thinking more and more about the organizational and business side of music. Since we don’t yet offer a course on career development, concert presentation, marketing, etc., for performers here at DePauw, I find I’m getting quite interested in developing one. (A case of wanting to teach what I need to learn more about!)

So I’ve been looking around at what some of the big conservatories and schools do. In my next post I’ll start posting what I’ve found.

Canon in D: The Cellist's Nightmare

This is just hilarious. I can't think of any piece more dreaded by professional classical musicians than the ubiquitous Pachelbel Canon in D. Pops concerts for symphony players, of course. And for those who make a big part of their living playing weddings, wedding receptions, and background music at parties, it's inescapable.

Back when I played a lot of background music gigs (and I'm eternally grateful to DePauw for making it possible for me not to have to do them any more), I had the simple 8-note bass line, which repeats over and over, so internalized that I could play it and do something else--like read. I had a string trio in the early 1980s which had a regular Sunday brunch gig at a restaurant in Baltimore's Harborplace, an upscale shopping mall right on the harbor. I'd buy the New York Times before we started or at our first break. Then during the inevitable Pachelbel, I'd set up the magazine section on my music stand and read an article, usually Safire's "On Language" column, while we played.

My sympathies to all who still have to play this regularly. Worst thing about it, of course, is that I still like the piece, despite myself!

Friday, December 08, 2006

Musical Buffet: The IPod Poster

As I described yesterday, my first-year seminar class at DePauw was charged with presenting a concert that would draw in non-music majors to hear some classical music. They also had to develop a publicity/marketing plan, part of which was posters they designed themselves and were then professionally printed (one class member's father has a printing business). So here are the three posters, which proved to be eye-catching and attention-grabbing, starting with the "IPod" one. (One demonstration of their effectiveness was that several of my class members reported non-music major friends asking them, "Hey did you see the posters for the Musical Buffet thing? Are you going?")

Musical Buffet: The Retro Poster

The Musical Buffet:: The Cow Poster

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Another Experiement in Creating New-Audiences

For their capstone project, my first-year seminar class at DePauw this semester was given the task to conceive, plan, organize, publicize, and present a performance that would:

  • include some classical music, but not be necessarily limited to it
  • attract non-music students who would not otherwise voluntarily attend a performance of classical music
After much brainstorming, discussion, market research, etc., and with encouragement from me and indirectly from Greg Sandow, they decided on the following:
  • hold the concert in the last week of class as a study break
  • hold it in the ballroom of the Student Union building, near the food court, so as to capitalize on walk-by traffic
  • include free food as a draw (see, they know what will attract a college-age audience)
  • not use the word "classical" anywhere in the title or publicity (a result of getting focus group feedback from other students)
  • have a mix of audience-participation drum circle, classical music, and pop music
  • use really eye-catching posters, which they designed themselves and had professionally printed
  • use Facebook to invite friends and friends of friends
  • do heavy word-of-mouth publicity and invitation
They named the event "A Musical Buffet, with a Side of Punch and Pie." "Punch and pie" is a reference to the South Park movie. They got funds from the university and had 10 pies, several cakes, and countless cookies, as well as 15 gallons of punch. (So, unlike the South park movie in which punch and pie isn't served at the meeting on how to save the world, they did serve dessert!)

The event was Tuesday night, and a grand success. The classical pieces were as warmly cheered as the pop pieces. The audience was huge--beyond their expectations--with the majority non-music majors. And the class members told me today that they were delighted that none of them recognized a majority of the audience--so it wasn't just their own friends and classmates who came.

Everything went off without a hitch. Response from students, faculty, and administration has been enthusiastic.

I'll write more soon, and post some video.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Non-Decline of Classical Recording?

I'm continuing to Google around, looking for statistics on whether or not the number of new releases of classical music has declined in recent years. As I wrote in my last post, Scott Spiegelberg found data that shows that new DG releases (including rereleases) are way up. No more statistics yet, but here's an interesting quote from a 2004 Alex Ross post in which he suggests that classical recording is not an industry in decline:

Tony Tommasini wrote in the Sunday New York Times: “For too long, the troubles among the major record companies and leading performing arts institutions have been taken as proof that the entire classical music field is struggling to engage an uninterested general public.” Yes. The former leading labels may be struggling to justify themelves to the corporate (non)entities that own them, but Nonesuch, ECM, Hyperion, and Harmonia Mundi have defined the category "major" out of existence, and there seems to be no end of new glories. I dithered over a dozen rave-worthy releases before picking René Jacobs’ Figaro, the Anna Netrebko recital, and Till Fellner’s Well-Tempered Clavier for my CD column last week. Here are six other recent discs that are evidence of something other than an industry in decline:
Follow the link to read his list. And I would add Naxos to his list of labels.

Rumors of Classical Recording's Death Exaggerated?

My DePauw colleague Scott Spiegelberg wrote an excellent followup on his blog, Musical Perceptions, to my post on the assertions of the "death" or "decline" of classical recording. It turns out he's been researching this subject himself. Among other information, he includes this, which I found startling:

I couldn't find any industry-wide data [for classical new releases], but I looked at Deutsche Grammaphon's catalog to tally their number of releases each year. Here it is:
Year # of releases
1982 8
1983 18
1984 29
1985 38
1986 19
1987 75
1988 52
1989 72
1990 56
1991 39
1992 53
1993 72
1994 86
1995 120
1996 90
1997 88
1998 94
1999 109
2000 85
2001 77
2002 116
2003 129
2004 145
2005 235
2006 273
Scott notes that the huge increase in recent years includes many releases of older recordings. Both Scott and I (and others, I'm sure) are on the hunt for broader industry-wide statistics on both the number of releases and the number of new releases. In her comment on my post, Elaine Fine reports the following:
The November/December issue of the American Record Guide has 244 pages of reviews of new recordings, and there are roughly three reviews per page. That means that there are roughly 730 new releases represented in that issue. Multiply that by 6 (the number of issues of roughly the same size that come out per year), and you get around 4390 recordings for 2006. Those are just the ones that the ARG reviewers felt were worth reviewing.
I'm inferring that these are all classical recordings.

As I suggested in my original post, I imagine that as the major labels have been bought by companies more interested in profit than mission, so that the model using some mega-sellers to subsidize smaller-sellers has nearly vanished, there's an enormous increase in performer-produced recordings on small labels. I have several friends, for example, who have funded the recording/editing costs of projects which the label Centaur has distributed. CD Baby and other online distributors have tons of interesting self-produced classical recordings.

I imagine the next big boom in major-label new ecording of traditional classical repertoire will come when there is some new technology that is a big step forward from digital stereo (CDs, MP3s, Itunes, etc.). SACDs, which use surround sound, don't seem to have taken hold anymore than "quadraphonic" recordings did in the 1970s, probably for the same reason: it's expensive and cumbersome to set up a really good surround-sound system. And stereo is much more like one's experience in a traditional concert than is surround sound.

So until then . . .

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

The Death of Classical Recording? Looking for Data

(12/7: some slight editing added)

"Classical music recording died several years ago," asserted the speaker, with a touch of rhetorical hyperbole, at a talk I attended recently. A skeptical college professor in the audience asked for specific data to back up the claim. The speaker, perhaps caught off guard, suggested that this is something "everyone knows" but wasn't able to come up with any statistics or anecdotal evidence, although he made what I believe is the correct assertion that there are many fewer classical recordings being produced, and the undeniable observation that there are fewer stores selling classical recordings. (I have noticed over the past five years the steady shrinking of floor space for classical CDs in the music departments of the Indianapolis-area Borders and Barnes and Noble stores; 10 years ago Best Buy had a huge classical selection, now hardly anything.)

So I believe the speaker was right, at least when it comes to classical recording as we used to know it: big labels recording major masterworks performed by big-name artists. As major record labels have been bought up by big conglomerates not committed to the cause of classical recording, new classical releases have been diminishing to the point that classical recording as it was in the 60's and 70's is for all intents and purposes dead. That's my sense of things anyway. But I have no statistics at my fingertips, either, although I do have some anecdotes.

Having a bit of free time this morning, I thought it would be worthwhile to spend a little time this researching the question online, and I invite my readers to add specific resources in the comments section. Here's what I've come up with in a couple of quick Google searches:

In January 2004, Greg Sandow (to whom I turn first when researching the challenges facing classical music) referred to "the decline (surely too weak a word) of classical recording." A little over a year later, he wrote a blog entry "The Crisis" which gave a more nuanced discussion of the issue:

3. Major classical record labels hardly record classical music any more. Again, this to some extent reflects a changed corporate climate. Major record labels are owned by huge media companies, which expect serious profits from each of their divisions. Plus, looking back a generation, record companies learned in the late '60s and the '70s how much money they could make from pop (when bands started selling millions of albums, instead of just millions of singles). The companies may well have wondered why they should settle for smaller profits from classical. But this is more than corporate greed; again we're talking about a change in cultural weather. Back in the '60s, and of course earlier, it seemed natural that large record companies should support serious classical divisions. They did this not simply for money, but also for prestige, and out of genuine interest. In the '40s, after all (and in earlier decades), classical radio broadcasts had reached millions of listeners, and NBC (one of the big radio networks) had even created an orchestra for Toscanini. Some of that spirit lived on into the age of television, but as the decades marched on, the record companies cared less and less. Not long ago, a spokesman for BMG, commenting on the Sony/BMG merger, turned out to have no idea that BMG had legendary classical artists in its catalogue. Classical music, it seemed, didn't matter to him at all.

4. Going along with a decline in major-label classical recording is a decline in classical record stores. Only a decade ago, there were five serious classical record departments in New York, at the two Tower Records branches, at two HMV stores, and at J&R Music World. J&R has decimated its classical department, the two HMV stores have closed, and Tower teeters on the edge of bankruptcy. The classical department at its downtown store is smaller than it used to be. More to the point, though, is the complete disappearance of stores selling any large number of classical records in smaller cities, and even some large ones. There simply isn't a market. And when I go to the Tower Records classical departments in New York, and see how comparatively empty they are, I wonder how Tower can sustain them. How can any store -- especially in a city where real estate costs as much as it does in New York -- afford to maintain so much space that generates so comparatively few sales?

5. Classical records are now largely subsidized. This is the dirty little secret of the classical record industry. Look at a serious classical recording -- especially something large-scale, like an orchestral performance, or an opera -- and you'll usually find private sponsors. Even the Metropolitan Opera's commercial recording of Wagner's Ring was at least to some extent privately funded. (Or so the Met's press department once confirmed to me, while remaining cagy about exactly how much of the cost the private donors paid.) What this means is that very few classical recordings are actually commercial, as, back in the 1950s and 1960s, almost all classical records (even on small labels) once were. It's important to remember this when you look at the vast array of small classical labels, many of them putting out notable, even compelling releases. How many of these labels are actually paying for those recordings? Or, maybe more to the point, how many of these recordings earn what they cost to make? Most, from everything I've heard, aren't even expected to earn much money. Instead, they're financed by the musicians who make them. Or else the record companies themselves are non-profit entities, supported by private funds.

Greg doesn't reference any specific sources--which one wouldn't necessarily expect in a blog entry--to document his statement that, "Major classical record labels hardly record classical music any more."

And, sad to note, Greg was wondering then how Tower records could survive, and now it's gone.

Norman Lebrecht wrote a 2003 blog entry, "Look Who's Been Dumped" in which he discusses artists being dropped by major labels. Along these lines, I know of anecdotal evidence, through a friend whose ex-wife was a classical producer for Phillips, that even Jessye Norman was dropped by that company for having sales too low.

Terry Teachout, in "What to Learn from Howard Stern: Can Old and New Media Coexist?" writes, "Mind you, I’ve never predicted the End of Classical Music, but I did see the end of the classical recording industry coming down the track many years ago, and wasn’t even slightly surprised when it finally came to pass." Terry goes on to muse about the possibilities of new delivery systems, and how many artists are successfully bypassing the whole crumbling structure of major labels with outlets like CD Baby and digital delivery systems.

What I haven't found yet, Googling around (I haven't gone to some of our academic online databases) are actual statistics along the lines of: "In 1980, there were X new classical releases; in 1990, Y; in 2000 Z; etc."

If anyone has those figures, please send 'em to me.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

ISIM--and a blog of improvisations

I'm at the International Society for Improvised Music conference at the University of Michigan. My presentation Friday on how I've used my experiences with Music for People and also Arthur Hull went well. And I've been to so many fascinating, stimulating presentations which have given me new ideas and new perspectives that I feel greatly privileged to be here. I'll write as much as I can about this on my improv blog as soon as I can--of course we are now in the end-of-semester crush, so time is quite limited.

Speaking of improv blogs, Eric Barnhill, a wonderful pianist and Dalcroze teacher who also gave a presentation at the conference, has a blog of actual improvisations. He told me about it this evening; what a great idea! He describes his musical language as having a strong Brahms and Schubert influence. I've just listened to a few of his pieces, and he's right. And his music is wonderful. It's a wonderful discovery for me to find someone who improvises in a traditional common-practice language--it shows that one can indeed improvise in any style.

Take a listen.