Are you a creator, performer, or presenter in one of the arts (or embodying two or more of those roles, as so often happens these days)? Then you want to hear what Ben Cameron has to say about what you’re up against, and where he see the opportunities:

Neurotheology of Genius

February 27, 2011

In her autobiography, George Sand tells of finding Frédéric Chopin composing during a Mallorca rain.

He saw himself drowned in a lake. Heavy and ice-cold drops of water fell at regular intervals upon his breast, and when I drew his attention to those drops of water which were actually falling at regular intervals upon the roof, he denied having heard them. He was even vexed at what I translated by imitative harmony…. His genius was full of mysterious harmonies of nature, translated by sublime equivalents into his musical thought, and not by a servile repetition of external sounds.

A discussion of a discussion of this here.

Mark T. Mitchell is thinking:

Cisco is boasting that its new communications technology will change the way we engage others. Indeed, when a hologram of a man in California appears before an audience in India and has a conversation with a “real” person, things feel a bit odd. Is this a mere gimmick that will confine itself to business meetings of tech companies or will this soon be part of our everyday experience? What is gained when a holographic figure replaces an image on a screen or a voice on the phone? I have to admit the technology is amazing, but is it significant? With this I could live in a cabin in Montana and teach classes in Virginia and hold regular office hours as well. Would the students find this satisfying? Would I? Could this technology affect the way we think about bodily existence?

I think the question of how our thinking may change if holograms of human bodies become common communication devices is a fascinating one. I see some real opportunities for music pedagogy — for example, making short regular visits to pupils’ practice sessions practicable. But it also leads me to some pretty wild thoughts about musical performance: could a hologram conduct an orchestra or play the viola part in a string quartet’s rehearsal when the “real” musician was snowed in? Would an audience made up of holograms cough less?

Soon after Marilyn Horne closed her 1999 farewell recital in Carnegie Hall with a pure, straightforward performance of “Always,” I heard this story:

Someone asked Irving Berlin which of his songs he valued most. He answered that it would be “Always.”

The questioner listed some more obviously important songs that Berlin had written, adding: “Anybody could have written ‘Always.'”

“But I did,” said the composer.

I have sometimes used this anecdote as an example of how intention, concept, etc. are worthless without execution. Can anyone here provide a source/authority for it?

The song was a wedding present for Ellin McKay, who would be Irving Berlin’s wife for sixty-two years.

BONUS: Ella Fitzgerald’s version even includes a counterpoint lesson.

David Lynch Calls Us Back

February 7, 2011

In an interview about not being a musician, the auteur reminds us why, if we’re lucky, we do what we do:

… take George Lucas or Spielberg: They’re doing, in my mind, what they truly love. But what they truly love, zillions of people love, so they’re multimillionaires. I’m doing what I truly love, but the audience is way smaller. And Don Van Vliet was doing what he truly loved and the audience is hardly there at all.

But it’s OK, because if you do anything that you don’t love for money or fame, you die. You can’t live doing that. It’s hollow. It’s a joke. So be thankful you’re able to do what you love.

One of the most discouraging aspects of American musical life for years now has been the state of music education for the great majority of children. One of the most encouraging has been the growing interest in, and heartening receptivity to, the success in Venezuela of El Sistema, the program that is taking hundreds of thousands of children to heights of accomplishment that might seem theoretically unlikely in meetings around a boardroom table but have become a reality in hundreds of cities and villages.

I was thinking of El Sistema when the recent unrest in Egypt caused the temporary closing of two of the training programs that the Barcelona Football Club (Barça) runs for young boys around the world. As I watch the new short video here and hear the head of the base school (La Masia) in Barcelona talking about the importance of both general education and training for excellence in helping children transcend what can otherwise be a life with far less purpose, I find it difficult to remember whether he is talking about producing a Lionel Messi or a Gustavo Dudamel.

UPDATE: Since posting the above this morning, I have come upon this article by a British journalist, published yesterday in an Australian paper, that goes a little more deeply into the process at La Masia. It still reminds me of a good conservatory.

ANOTHER UPDATE: The subject is commanding a lot of attention. A new video about La Masia is up. Being from Canal Plus, it’s in Castilian, but even those who don’t understand much of that language may find the video impressive.

China in Nixon

February 5, 2011

Since the Metropolitan Opera premiere this week of Nixon in China, everybody (and by everybody I mean hundreds and hundreds of people) is talking about the great events of the seventies in which the eponymous President went to the eponymous country. My memories of that historic moment are, however, dominated by thoughts of impeccable Chinese food provided by a glamorous woman.

Sheila Chang, born in Shanghai of a Chinese father and a Scottish mother, and educated by aristocratic French nuns, ran an extraordinary restaurant on Third Avenue a few blocks north of Bloomingdales. I was a young musician who had just come to the city and had fallen in with a major Handel series (for which I wrote the program notes and did some continuo playing). But, much more importantly, the late lamented Albert Fuller (or, as he liked to alter that expression, “The Late Demented”) was involved and was a pal of Sheila Chang. So off a hungry band of us would go after rehearsals or performances to Sheila Chang’s Shanghai East. Placed around a large table, we would be visited by the proprietress, who would offer to go see what was best in the kitchen that evening. She would send out to us generous portions of whatever she chose. This was not an inexpensive establishment, and I was a student. But — no fear — when we had eaten our fill of sometimes quite rare delicacies, she would rub her hands together, survey the damage at our places, and demand five or six dollars from each of us.

Presumably she was asking more of Miss Alice Tully, for whom this was also a much-frequented restaurant.

But my reason for bringing this up in an operatic context is not just for the China part but for the Nixon part as well. It may be hard for kids now to imagine, but Americans didn’t just go online and make plane reservations for China in those days. Nixon’s trip is spoken of as having “opened up” that huge country. So, all of a sudden, lots of important people wanted to know all about Chinese food — and not at the level of the ordinary fare of New York takeout and delivery (though I’m the last to despise that variety when I’m hungry for a little hot and sour soup and chicken with garlic sauce). Suddenly we humble minstrels and Miss Tully found ourselves joined by major politicians and media figures who wanted to acquire the savoir faire to dine creditably in China. One night it was Harry Reasoner at the next table, and another brought Senator Kennedy. I was also there on the night when the entire Chinese kitchen staff refused to cook for a delegation of diplomats from what was then ordinarily spoken of as Red China.

It was a sad day for my little musical posse when Sheila Chang decided that the bloom was off the rose for Chinese restaurants in Manhattan, and the torch was passed to Tel Aviv, where I trust she found other appreciative musicians to feed. But I like to think that our great Republic suffered less embarrassment — lost less face — when members of Mr. Nixon’s entourage manipulated their chopsticks with aplomb and didn’t send back their thousand-year-old eggs with the complaint that they were spoiled.