Sunday, December 20, 2009
There is an apparent arrogance with musicologist in researching the history of music. Very rarely do you see research of 20th c. topics. I feel it is short sighted of us to ignore the recent and current popular cultural and musical ideologies. With music changing so rapidly, we have much to learn to fully understand where we are going. I have to say, it is almost a betrayel of educational responsibilities if universities do not offer a class or classes in current music and performance practices.
I suppose to understand musical trends one must understand social trends. And, to predict a future trend, one must fully understand the historical paths and project a future based on where we have been and what we have accepted and denied as social and musical "norms". Perhaps I just described a successful Marketing campaign, but I hope I have also ignited some interest in current musical trends. Now we can take this to the next level and discuss music technologies, because much "new" music is electronic and perhaps a bit aleatoric. But, I'm currently interested in what can be recreated in a live performance.
Hmmm, perhaps I'll ponder this more with a holiday cookie.
Cheers and cookie up!
Saturday, November 21, 2009
What I really wanted to do is give her a long list of things to watch out for, when to be aggressive and when the passive approach is more effective, the importance of a knowing a second language, being versed in multiple disciplines, and essentially the value of a liberal arts education. That would have inundated her. So, I told her that one bit of wisdom.
Admittedly, I told her that I will share things with her every now and then as the situation presented itself. But, really who doesn't do that anyway?
What one thing would you share with a college-aged curious individual? What would you tell someone that you wish you would have known when you were back in college?
(Don't drink the blue stuff!!" is too easy an answer!)
I love that my friend is going through this wonderfully healthy stage of craving information. However, careful what you ask for...
Wednesday, October 28, 2009
Remember the obvious preventative actions:
1) wash your hands
2) repeat #1
I can't tell you how many times I see guys in public restrooms that DO NOT wash their hands after they do their business. Jeez, so you take an extra minute and a half longer in the stinky room. Get over it and wash your hands!
Okay, so let's say you find yourself (with clean hands) coughing and you start thinking, "oh no, I have the dreaded Swine Flu! Oh no, oh no! Head for the hills!" Now stop and think, do I really have it?
Here are the primary differences between a cold and the H1N1 "Swine" Flu (click chart to enlarge):
If you really think you have it, then seek medical attention.
For now, wash your hands frequently. If not for you, then for everyone else you come in contact with. Thank you in advance.
Be safe. Be happy.
The above chart was sent to me by a friend, but it can be found at this website: http://www.turnto23.com/news/19337804/detail.html
Saturday, October 24, 2009
While looking out my window and seeing the absolute beauty in nature, I find that my mind wanders to searching for the big picture or the answer to the answered question. Although I will not be discussing Charles Ives “Unanswered Question” at this point, it is an interesting piece worthy of conversation…perhaps later. At any rate, here are my thoughts as I examine ways to improve myself.
I narrowed it, albeit naively, to the top 5 qualities one should strive for in life. These qualities will help you socially, professionally, and probably land you a job if you are true to yourself. In every day life we run across people that at takers and not givers. People that do not value a good day, but rather take advantage of others while the day is good are the ones I’m addressing. I’m speaking of that bum that cuts us off on the highway, or jerkoid who tries to rip you off at the cell phone store, or most recently, the moving company guy who delivers your furniture late, damaged, and dissolves himself of responsibility (long story, but again, another blog for another time).
Here are the 5 qualities to hit that sweet spot in life.
No doubt about it, intelligence is important to survive in life. I’m not just talking about book smarts, but street smarts as well. As important as it is to be informed in many areas of life as literature, fine arts, math, language skills, it is also important to have the know how to survive in the urban wilderness. This “street smarts” is essentially modern Darwinism – the survival of the urban fittest. Only the resilient and the wise tend to rise to the top.
Integrity is one of the illusive words that too many people just do not understand. Truth, honor, and faith are qualities of integrity. Truth and honor are both self explanatory (I hope). With faith, I am referring to that faith you can have in others for doing the right thing and for others to have in you. Faith is that others believe you will complete your task as promised. Faith is that others believe you will pay your debts on time. And, faith is that you are truthful and honorable to your fellow person. This is non-negotiable.
Enthusiasm = excitement and drive for life. Isn’t always more enjoyable to be around people who are enthusiastic about what they are doing, excited by their project or activity? This is extremely contagious and equally important.
If you are always looking for answers to problems or find yourself solving issues, resolving contentions, or even just wondering what’s around the corner, then you have got this one covered. They say that curiosity is the spice of life and I’d have to agree.
A diverse individual is one that is multifaceted in interests, open-minded, tolerant, patience, and able to see beyond what’s directly in front of them. This is probably the most difficult attribute one can strive for because it calls for a diverse outlook in life. People will judge you by who surrounds you. Only you can choose your friends. Choose wisely. Keep a diverse outlook and remain open to feedback, information, ideals, and even religion.
Tuesday, October 20, 2009
The three Ps are a formula for an organization's success.
Policy + Politics + Passion = Power
Power to change the world to make it better...and in this case, make it better for the children in Houston.
How can this be applied to the world of music, business, or even personal success?
If you know the policy - the facts surrounding the topic and you are familiar with the politics or discussions surrounding the topic and you know you have a committed passion about the topic, then this will empower you to success! It is simplified here and I hope I haven't cheapened Mr. Mickelson's statement with this blog entry.
The most important aspect is the passion. Have passion in your work and for your desired outcome. If you are not completely committed to your project, you will have a more difficult time in reaching your goal.
Getting power is typically a political agenda and can have negative implications. Power or empowerment is important to success, not for manipulation, but for giving yourself the confidence to succeed, for creating a positive environment poised for success, for having the knowledge and ability to bring the appropriate people together at the right time and place to achieve the goals at hand.
If the 3 Ps do not fit your world, then give it some thought and create your own formula to reach you or your companies goals.
Monday, September 28, 2009
I've been away from the blog for too long. Moving can be brutal, but unpacking and organizing is a bear!
At any rate, the old N1H1 (aka swine flu) is still out there and apparently not getting better. I recently read in a Time Magazine article online that the vaccine will be available mid-October 2009. Okay, so if you're not going to get the vaccine, let me just remind everyone of some basic common sense rules to follow. These will keep you healthy, wealthy, and wise. Well, maybe not the wealthy part, but certainly healthy!
1) Wash your hands frequently. Wash your hands especially after going to the bathroom, before eating, before and after working out, and anytime your hands touch something that everyone else touches also. This may sound neurotic, but a little neurosis is healthy at this point, don't you think? I can't tell you how many times I see males use public washrooms, but fail to wash their hands after doing their business. Jeez. Is it *that* difficult to wash up afterwards. For everyones sake, clean up please.
2) Re-read #1 and take it to heart.
3) Go back to #2
4) This is the difficult one, get plenty of rest, drink plenty of water, and take a daily vitamin. Do this when you are healthy! Do this daily. Don't wait until you're sick to do this, then it's too late you're already sick.
When the vaccine is available mid-October, the CDC recommends the following people be first in line:
Those in households with babies 6 months old or younger.
Everyone from 6 months to 24 years old.
People ages 25 to 64 with conditions like asthma.
If you get the flu and don't know whether it is "the" flu or not, stay home. Do not go to work or school. Do not pass go. Do not collect $200.
Tamiflu - Works and is most effective in the first 48 hours of illness, the drug works against symptoms of the new H1N1, but seasonal flu is resistant to it.
Relenza - Not for young children but effective against both seasonal and 2009 H1N1 flu
For more information and my sources for this post, please visit:
It is everywhere now. Be safe. Be smart.
Thursday, July 23, 2009
Music is no longer used to exclusively to entertain. It is now used to motivate people to buy, sell, smile, frown, relax, and yes - even to learn skills. So, how many people actually listen to music just to listen... with no agenda? For a while, people discussed the "Mozart Effect" where one listens to the music of Mozart and they become instantly smarter. There is merit there. Music is a collection of organized sounds presented in a coherent and hopefully, pleasant form. It's organization of music that stimulates our brain. How does one decide what note will follow the last? Or, how long the duration of note should be sustained and to what intensity? What makes it interesting?
When one is able to create a logical order of sounds in a fashion that is enjoyable by many, you'll find a musician. Next time you find yourself anywhere out of your controlled environment, listen to the music surrounding you and determine what the motivation or point of the music. Usually, at restaurants, it will be to stimulate an appetite, at stores it is to stimulate the spending and excite the customer about the products displayed.
Take control of the music that is within your control. Listen to what you want and enjoy it for what it can do to you and millions of others.
Funny, with music everywhere, it is sad that musicians can be paid so poorly.
Tuesday, July 14, 2009
Body language and the use of the hands.
The questions: Does the fingers mean anything while conducting, do they serve any purpose? And, how does the conductor manage their hands when not actively being used?
Two good questions rarely discussed. Firstly, when using the hands, are the fingers open and spread apart? Are they closed and cupped? Or, perhaps the hands are somewhere between the two. The thought here is all about the psychologically transmitted and perceived communications. In essence, closed fingers resemble tight controls, organized, and a bit stifling. Open or spread fingers is just the opposite. It usually signifies loose controls, unorganized thoughts, and too many directions to follow. So, where does that leave the conductor, somewhere in the middle? What communication is intended? Find something comfortable perhaps with fingers together with a one or two spread. Think about the music and the response desired, then decide on what your hand and fingers should show. Next time you go to the ballet, look at the dancers fingers. What message does it convey. Next time you see a mime, notice how the fingers communicate volumes. The same applies with conductors and conducting.
Secondly, what to do with the hands when not actively used? Do they drop to the side, held neurotically to the body, or what? Actually, the best action is…no action. Forget about the hands, they will take care of themselves. The more a young conductor focuses on a static hand, the more it becomes a problem and the quicker it gets in the way of the music. This may seem like a weak answer, but let the hand drop when the music permits...naturally, if at all.
This blog entry is brought to you by: Short and sweet with a "straight to the point" philosophy.
Friday, July 10, 2009
Two events sparked my current blog addition. This article on body language (http://shine.yahoo.com/channel/life/seven-common-body-language-mistakes-480085/) and looking at my friends photography blog (http://grantblair.bigfolioblog.com/). Visual images spark a message to the brain. Do you know what you're telling your ensemble with your body position and posture?
Body language is the conductors most significant vehicle for communication. Unfortunately, there are so many young conductors out there that are simply learning the beat patterns and basic ensemble language skills. Get beyond the patterns and think about what needs to be musically communicated.
Since conductors rely on unspoken communication, it is important to recognize what is being communicated. Make sure your communications are conscious decisions and not reflections of your poor mood or attitude.
Let's start with the primary avenue of communication, the hands. Some messages are obvious, cue the oboes by gesturing in their direction just before their entrance. This is straight forward and clear. However, what if the cellos have an important entrance at the same time or slightly after the oboes? It would get awfully cumbersome to give two quick cues back to back. You can easily get caught up in becoming a traffic cop instead of music inspiration leader. One solution would be to cue the oboes while facing the cellos or vice-versa depending on the significant of both passages. After cuing the oboes you can think just look at the cellos for their cue. If you've spent any time in an ensemble you will know this is your cue.
Another quick thought - it may seem trivial, but if the conductor moves their hand up to scratch their nose while conducting (silly, I know) someone may misunderstand this as a gesture to get louder or even worse, as a cue for an entrance. Remember, the musicians are not actively looking at the conductor, they are watching by using their peripheral vision to simply glean the musical "big picture".
This is a rather lengthy topic that I will revisit again soon.
Until then, watch what your saying by watching what your doing.
Monday, July 6, 2009
He was both a consummate teacher and student of life. Joe and I were both Adjunct Professors at High Point University. He taught Social Work I taught Music.
For a few short semesters, Joe studied trumpet with me after university orchestra rehearsals. Over time, we built a healthy friendship through lengthy discussions of university politics, careers, social interactions, and of course, music. Since I was also going through a “transition” with my girlfriend, Joe also got an earful of my woes. We were both good listeners for each other. During the “hour” trumpet lesson, we spent about an hour and a half discussion and playing trumpet, then another two hours discussing philosophy, religion, national news, and generally resolving issues that constantly surrounded us. Joe was one of the most profound individuals I have ever met. With his curiosity for life driving him, he obsessed with learning the unspoken secrets to playing the trumpet. As with all performing arts, there is a specific psychology behind successful performing and in our short time together, we crossed many bridges and solved many problems surrounding trumpet performance. He absolutely understood every idea presented and added an extra dimension of consideration at every turn. Joe was an open-minded and cohesive individual who unconsciously healed all woes with his kindly smile and worldly acceptance.
Although Joe and I met about five years ago, it seems like we have been life-long friends. Because of our busy lives, we were only able to meet occasionally in the last months – usually over breakfast at Mimi’s. However, every time we met, it was like we had just spoken to each other the day before.
I will miss his accepting smile. When we last spoke, we were going to a ballgame together. I’ll miss the game that never happened.
I'll miss my friend Joe.
Saturday, June 20, 2009
The Conductor's Baton
The conductor’s baton is one of the significant tools that conductors employ to add clarity, precision, and varying character to a beat style. Batons can be extremely personal and if used properly can help a conductor achieve his or her desired results more effectively than with the hands alone.
No matter the baton you prefer, it is best that the baton is properly balanced to give the feeling of weightlessness and unobtrusiveness when used. The proper balance point is at the seam between the shaft and the handle. One should be able to balance the baton on a finger at this fulcrum point. A properly balanced baton should feel like part of your arm.
What kind of Handle?
There are many considerations when choosing a baton. Common handle options are wood, cork or plastic. Most handles are made of wood or cork. Plastic handles are usually the “freebies” typically found at trade shows. These are the most inexpensive type and least desirable because of poor craftsmanship and design. Cork is easy to come by and easy to shape. However, because of it's lightweight, it is difficult to find a properly balanced baton with a cork handle.
The best method for choosing a handle shape is to see what fits the hand the best. Hand sizes and baton grips vary enough that suitable handles shapes and sizes cannot be generally recommended. The typical handle shapes that can be widely found include: hourglass, inverted hourglass, tear shaped, round ball, and football shaped. One size and shape does not fit all. As far as non-functional or cosmetic features in handles, one has the option of different grains, stains, colors, lengths, weights, diameters, and shapes, especially with wooden handles.
A newcomer to batons is the aluminum handle. These are purported as durable and “aesthetically pleasing”.
What kind of shaft?
The most common shaft choices are made of fiberglass or wood. Other options include shafts that are battery lighted or fluorescent. These more luminous varieties are used in darkened theatres for easy viewing by the orchestra and singers on stage.
Because of its durability and extreme flexibility, the best option for student conductors is probably a baton with a fiberglass shaft. Fiberglass batons range in price quite widely, but they can be found rather inexpensively (~$5 US) online. The downside is that they are slightly heavier and are more difficult to balance with a wooden handle. Fiberglass batons are ideal for students because they are less likely to break in a backpack as compared to wooden shafts.
Wooden-shafted batons are preferred by most conductors because of the light-weight and well-balanced design. Additionally, wood-shaft batons are so easy to make, that vendors are plentiful and widespread. Quality, both high and low, is also widespread. Buyers beware. Ultimately, what feels right, is what works best. The more exposure and practice with batons, the more comfortable and discerning one will become.
Lighted and fluorescent batons are used in theatre pits for better visibility for both the instrumentalists in the pit and actors on stage. Lighted batons usually carry battery packs – if the batteries are kept in the handles than that extra weight, no matter how little, will eventually damage the rotator cuff in the shoulder of the conductor. Be careful of any extra weight imposed on the conductor. Damage to muscles and joints may occur very easily with repetition. An alternative to battery-weighted, lighted batons is a baton painted with a fluorescent coating. Although these may seem effective, they may also be more distracting then functional. Use with caution and ask the musicians after rehearsal if it worked for them. After all, it is for them that you use it.
Computer-chipped “smart” batons are making an appearance in an extremely limited fashion. There are computer programs that use these special batons to read a conductor’s gesture and pass the information remotely to a computer either for evaluation or for computer generated musical performance. One Japanese-based company has a computer-chipped baton for gesture recognition and learning assistance. It is designed to detect and transmit the conductor's beat by way of an electronic signal to a computer showing the music.
Choose the right baton for the right ensemble
Choosing the right baton for the right ensemble is a skill that can be learned rather quickly. Essentially, the larger ensembles demand a longer-shafted baton and conversely, smaller ensembles do not require large, visually-demanding batons. A good starting point is a 12" baton length. If it seems too cumbersome for the ensemble size than move to a shorter length. Or, if your ensemble is spread out with antiphonal brass and large orchestra and choir, then a longer more visible baton may be required.
How to hold the baton
The baton serves as an extension of the arm. With that, the baton should essentially extend the length of the arm when held properly. Occasionally, batons may be held with a slight turn from the wrist, thus creating a very open obtuse angle. Try to avoid extreme angles, that is, angles approaching a hard right angle. Extreme angles can lead to a double ictus between the hand and the tip of the baton thus creating an unclear beat style and audible ambiguity from the orchestra.
There are several acceptable grips, but the most common is with the handle of the baton cupped in the right hand with the butt of the handle resting inside the palm. The weight of the shaft rests and balances on the middle finger. The index finger and the thumb are used as left-right/up-down leverage. Two main positions are utilized with this grip, palm down for easy up and down gestures and palm facing the left for easy left and right gestures. No matter the direction of the palm, the baton remains an extension of the arm.
Keep in mind that many conductors do not use batons. Personally, I let the music choose whether or not I use a baton. But, that may be a topic for another post.
Image of balanced baton: http://www.custom-batons.com/about.php
Baton collector http://www.strugala.com/kol_en.html
Baton prices found on the Internet
$5-$8 on Amazon
$5 for fiberglass http://www.jwpepper.com/jpg/10042420.jpg
$42 for aluminum from http://www.mollard.com/core/batons.l.htm
$75 for Lighted batons
$23 for Fluorescent batons
This blog and it's contents are copyright protected and sole ownership of the author. Do not use without permission for the author. Copyright 2009.
Thursday, June 11, 2009
This is a typical rudimental and pedagogical question and many young conductors may not have the answer or their answer may not be entirely correct! I once had a professor ask me, when I was on the podium in front of my colleagues who were behind a piano, "Why are you standing there?" At first I thought to myself, "because you TOLD me to!". But, after some ponderings I realized he was asking why was I on the podium leading the orchestra and not someone else! Well, this was a very good question, perhaps odd timing, but nonetheless a good question.
So, what was the correct answer? These days there are really two directions you can take this. However, the answer he was looking for was that the conductor has that position for a reason. That reason is because he/she is the expert. They know the answers to the questions that have not yet been asked. This is accomplished through years of study and preparation, thorough examination of the scores in question, and knowledge of the instruments. This is all very basic information. So, what is the role of the conductor then?
This is where the two directions come into play.
On one hand, the conductor can be a dictator of musical will and fearless leader for all. On the other hand, the conductor can be just another member of the ensemble, musical collaborator, and just happen to be the guy up front.
Both extremes are acceptable, however I find a combination of both are preferred. One can characterize the role of the conductor as a rehearsal leader, group interpreter and discussion leader, traffic cop, cat wrangler, as well as ensemble member, musical collaborator, orchestral musician, and partner.
These are just some key words for discussion and food for thought.
So what was my answer to the professor's question? Well, in my awkward sense of humor I responded to my very dry European professor with a twinkle in my eye, "because I am a DEMI-GOD!". I swear I saw the corners of his mouth rise in a smile. Of course that was just before he shouted, "NO!".
Monday, June 1, 2009
Sunday, May 24, 2009
Saturday, May 23, 2009
On Friday, May 1, 2009 (I know - this posting is a bit late), a dear friend performed in a group he affectionately calls, "F-Art". This is a group from his college days dating back to the 70s I believe. It was a group of music major misfits (my words) that were experimenting with new music and music creation. Remember, this was a time of polytonality, aleatory, and good old fashion fun.
Tuesday, May 5, 2009
Monday, May 4, 2009
The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recommends basic preventative measures to avoid spreading the flu. http://cdc.gov/flu/protect/habits.htm
1. Avoid close contact.
2. Stay home when you are sick.
3. Cover your mouth and nose.
4. Clean your hands.
5. Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth.
6. Practice other good health habits.
The big one in my opinion is number 3. It's important to cover your coughs and sneezes. It is commonly recognized to cough or sneeze into your sleeve and not your hands. Many sources say this helps prevent germs spreading. Whether you do this or not, it's always good to use a hand sanitizer, like Purell.
Now, I'm not some Howard Hughian paranoid germ freak. I just think it is important to be familiar with commonly accepted practices of good health.
Cinco de Mayo is a fun holiday where many people come together in celebratory fashion. And, there is plenty of good live music to enjoy, especially in Austin, Texas!
Happy Cinco de Mayo and everyone stay healthy!
Thursday, April 30, 2009
Friday, April 17, 2009
Saturday, April 4, 2009
Saturday, March 21, 2009
So, here I sit at an undisclosed location in the Jemez Mountains contemplating job searches, conducting pedagogy and relocating my home. Oddly enough, when you have no job one would think you have more time. Job hunting becomes a full-time job - except it doesn't pay very well. Also, the more time you have the more the time is filled with little odd tasks that seem to continually pop up.
At any rate, I digress. My job searching is slow going. So, I think I'll write a book on Conducting Pedagogy. There were many things that I learned in the trenches that would have been very helpful to know before hand. Albeit, perhaps I wouldn't have fully appreciated the information so early on, but it would have better equipped me to manage the orchestral conducting world.
For now, I will ponder possible book direction and audience --- and enjoy the beautiful day in the mountains.
Talk to you later.
Wednesday, March 18, 2009
What a good group -- it is comprised of high school students, local teachers and pros, as well as seniors. It is very rewarding to stand in front of this multi-skill-leveled orchestra and get the results that we did. Thank you LCCO for a great concert. What a treat!
Wednesday, March 11, 2009
It is a good piece. I think I'll orchestrate it. Would you like to hear it?
Monday, March 9, 2009
This may be a common vein in my hoe down of a blog, but I have been thinking about this for a while. How do you prepare a young conductor to go before an ensemble and lead effectively, efficiently, and most importantly -- musically? Can you prepare someone fully or are we only able to present them with the most common situations that they may come across? Perhaps the answer is both yes and no. Yes, you can offer a student a most comprehensive education and practical lab from which they can hone their skills. But no, they will likely not understand their education until later...sometimes much later.
Sunday, March 8, 2009
Speaking of wine, I just enjoyed a delightful glass of 2008 $3 two-buck-chuck Valdiguie. Not bad for a table wine.
Saturday, March 7, 2009
Oh yeah, I was thinking about all of this while riding my Honda Nighthawk CB650 today on highway 158 with Megan and Tony following on their nice bikes (she rides a Yamaha Virago, he rides a BMW). It was a gorgeous day today!
Keep the rubber side down.
Friday, March 6, 2009
I was walking down the street minding my own business, then WHAM! I was laid off from my job. So, as I have been pondering my philosophical, pedagogical, musical, and financial options, I thought it appropriate and perhaps apropos to start blogging on matters of importance. Knowing me, I'll randomize my content to include the non-essentials as well. Nonetheless, here we go.