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Time for a move

As some of you might have noticed, I’ve moved my blog to my wordpress site for now (url: http://silpayamanant.wordpress.com/ ). I need to seriously redo my whole website and until I decide how I’m going to integrate all my various blogs I’ll just use the site above for my musical postings. So update those bookmarks and feeds and see you on the other side!!

Charles Murray and Excellence in Music

“It is easy to lie with statistics, but it’s a lot easier to lie without them.”
- Richard J. Herrnstein

After tearing apart my home office and doig some re-organization I finally came across my copy of Charles Murray’s “Human Accomplishment” which was the main reason I decided to clean-up the office in the first place (so that I could find my copy, that is).

Mainly, I was interested in some of the methodology he uses in his book as he so meticulously describes all the statistical techniques he uses in compiling his inventories.

While I don’t agree with many of his conclusions (and how he got to them, for that matter) I was intrigued by the fact that he only included one inventory for music–and that was for “Western Music”–which listed the usual suspects in his rankings: Beethoven, Mozart, Wagner, Bach, etc.

While his inventories stop at 1950 (so almost none of the so-called really popular “Pop Music” makes it into his lists) he does address the issue of Eurocentrism in Chapter 11 of his book, “Coming to Terms with the Role of Modern Europe” where he eventually states that,

“In music, the lack of a tradition of named composers in non-Western civilizations means that the Western total of 522 significant figures has no real competition at all.”

This is patently false as I’ve humbly come to understand only because I’ve spent the past few years playing music composed and written by composers from the Ottoman Empire and the Middle East that are centuries old in some cases and have also come to understand that the Byzantine Empire and the various Eastern Churches had traditions of notated music that in some cases date back to the 9th century or earlier.

Of course, since he is using standard Western texts for the compiling of his inventories of excellence, and having matriculated through that system of musical education, I understand that even trained musicians are not likely to know about notated art music traditions outside of the “West” so it would be disingenuous of me to criticize Murray for his ignorance of that without training as an ethnomusicologist [specializing in those areas of the world]. Then again, I’m no specialist in those musical areas of the world, either, but it hasn’t stopped me from knowing about the notation traditions and composer attributions in them. *shrugs*

I was really planning on writing much more but have been reading so many reviews of Murray’s book that I’ve really become far too fascinate with the oeuvre of literature surrounding its publishing to say much more right now. I will say that probably one of my favorites so far is Judith Shulevitz’s review in the New York Times.

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the economics of underserved audiences (part 1)

Yesterday, I posted a bit about playing for underserved audiences, or rather, my desire to play for them. As the response to an email I quoted it’s an issue of bringing a certain type of live entertainment to groups that might not otherwise have an opportunity (or that have fewer opportunities) to ever experience an art form that could regularly be seen in the audience member’s native country.

Some of the questions (or retorts) I’ve had to answer in the past when I’ve bothered to make my “mission statement” public have been weighing on my mind for years (if not decades in some cases) and I’ve only recently been able to articulate non-anecdotal and intuitive responses.

So many of the issues can be analyzed and articulated from the standpoint of the economic benefits or harm that is the result of not having the same range of choices available between populations, or rather between different subpopulations within a geo-political region.

As far as arts and entertainment goes, the case is probably not seen as being so important. I’ll address that in the next part, but to underscore just how important and relevant an analysis like this can be just imagine how fewer options for a particular population can be deadly when it comes to the issue of nutrition and/or medicine.

No, this isn’t going to be a diatribe about issues that currently litter the US political landscape regarding economic class(es). Whether or not the poor can afford to “be healthy” given the current political and economic landscape in the US isn’t my concern here (not to say that I’m not concerned about it, of course!).

But what if, because of the way markets are “supposed to work” when left to their own devices (i.e. laissez-faire economics), what would be the case when there is not enough of a demand for a particular product, say medicine or nutritious foods, that is essential for a basic level of good health. Either the fixed costs for bringing that product to the market will be too high in the first place (in 2005 it costs pharmaceuticals $900 million to bring a prescription drug to the market – I doubt that fixed cost has droppe much in 5 years) or the startup and operating costs for a niche market. Ethnic minorities would fall in the niche market (sometimes now referred to as a ‘preference minority’ more recent studies and research).

All things being equal (e.g. regarding income levels) the expense for being an ethnic minority in an completely laissez-faire or free market economy would be greater for those who had the misfortune of not being a member of the ethnic majority through chance of birth. A corollary being that those who had the luck of being a member of the ethnic majority already get a discount on health and nutrition through no hard work and so get to start just a little bit ahead of the curve, so to speak.

This is obviously a very simplistic and very condensed view of some of the more current studies that I’ve been researching the past few years and as I’m sure anyone who is reading this can tell that it is loaded with all kinds of not-so-pleasant implications for anyone that happens to be a member of either of the two major political parties in the US.

For now, I’ll leave this since the ultimate concern with regards to my mission statement is how minority status can affect choices for [especially] live entertainment. And maybe, by making an analogy to the previous examples, what I’m saying is a little more clear.

And if it’s not, then look at it from this viewpoint–imagine that the town or city you are living in has media resources and live venues that only cater to music you don’t particularly care for-or that you might actually hate or despise an it is only a rare opportunity for you to get to hear your favorite song or symphony on the radio or perhaps see an artist you like who happens to be touring through your area. Well, that’s what some of us have to live with all our lives.

I’m sure some folks are thinking that and considering newer media like the internet as being the great equalizer (or at least a way to help “level the playing field”) but I’ll bring up some of the interested secondary consequences of that in a future post as well.

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“I wanna play for a smaller audience”

Having taken my mother on our monthly foray to an Asian food mart in Louisville, I actually took to the time to inspect one of the fliers that litter all the Vietnamese food stores on third street:

What I hadn’t paid attention to in the past is that these fliers were (I’m assuming) for events in the Kentuckiana area (notice the bottom right hand corner: Vietnamese Musical Band of Louisville). The other flier I picked up was for a Vietnamese Lunar New Year concert happening at the local casino boat venue:

This reminded me of what I said about my “mission statement” as well as things I’ve posted elsewhere about playing for underserved audiences.

But what this really reminded me of what a short email exchange I had with someone that was spurred on by some comments I made in a discussion at Greg Sandow’s blog. I’m going to post my response to this person (I don’t have this person’s permission to post the other half of the exchange) which, I will mention, received no response but I think really underscores some of the issues surrounding my wanting to perform for underserved audiences, which in many cases means a minority audience (hence the title of this blog post). Some of this is only going to make sense in the context of the discussion at Mr. Sandow’s blog, but I think most of it is pretty self-explanatory.

to: ******** <*********@gmail.com>
date: Mon, Mar 1, 2010 at 3:50 AM
subject: Re: Broader Audiences and such

****,

Thanks for being willing to continue this discussion. I really do appreciate it. I hope I clarified some of the points you’re referring to in my most recent post and response to Melissa at Greg’s blog (and I hope my public apology helps you understand that i’m not interested in a catfight as much as having a discussion). As far as to what Pierre-Arnaud–or rather to which composers he was using to illustrate his point, as I said in my post, Boulez, Carter and Lachenmann are hardly composers I would consider to have reached a larger audience at all.

That aside, I’m not sure how often you do read Greg’s blog or have followed any of my responses there, but your concerns about the whole idea of a “World Music group” are well founded and obviously issues I’ve had the ‘pleasure’ of dealing with. I think the biggest issue is that for all intents and purposes, that “World Music” designation was designed as a catch-all term that the music industry uses to market music that falls outside of most Western music genres. Or rather, it was a phrase that the industry adapted for use in marketing that kind of music (I haven’t really done any research on the evolution of the phrase as a way to categorize non-Western music, so can’t say for sure whether the usage was first a marketing term or just a general one to make those categorizations when describing the music).

That being said, there’s also the issue of it’s usage in marketing in two very distinct ways and for two very distinct “sub-genres” of “non-Western music”–basically for traditional folk/art or even pop music and then for the more contentious (and maybe the music to which you are referencing more?) so-called “World-fusion” music (especially as you describe it with the “World music groups generally condense various genres into stereotypes”). I’ve often heard this referred to as “Crossover” music, though that term also seems to include the crossover into classical music by pop musicians (or vice-versa) so maybe Crossover isn’t entirely appropriate here.

But my world music group isn’t entirely either of those. But mostly, the world music we do perform are traditional folk and art music works (with a smattering of world pop music hits). Given our instrumentation (vocals, mandolin, Egyptian tabla, cello, clarinet), it will never be entirely “traditional” enough for the purists at the same time, it’s a little too traditional for those audiences or contexts that want to “World Fusion/Crossover” sound (whatever that is). We generally stay away from genres or styles that have religious/ritual functions (for example, we would never think it would be appropriate for us to perform a “concert version” of an adhan–Islamic call to prayer–since none of us are Muslim, and since the call to prayer has a very time specific religious function).

That being said, the description of the students at the dance marathon was meant to illustrate changing tastes. If I had wanted to illustrate how good a fit we are as an ensemble in more traditional contexts I could have described an audience response at any number of private or public events we’ve done for ethnic populations (e.g. an Indian Bharat we did in Toronto in 2008 singing songs in Hindi and Punjabi; A Greek Orthodox engagement party consisting of primarily Arabs we played in Indianapolis a couple of years ago singing tunes in Arabic, Turkish, and Hebrew; The Louisville Italian Festival that we regularly played for several years performing only Italian standards with Italian instrumentation in various Italian dialects; a Greek restaurant owned by a first generation Greek immigrant that we regularly play singing Greek and Eastern European tunes; etc.). See, one of our stage-banter quips is to say we’re “putting the World back into World music.” These are what i meant by underserved audiences. I mentioned some others in the post I linked above (namely women and children).

I’m not meaning to be snide in response to your question, but we’re not all Americans. And in that sense I mean that I’m actually a legal resident living here in the States. Been here since I was a kid but have never bothered to get citizenship. Grew up in a household with my Thai mother as my primary caregiver. The first music I learned how to sing were Thai songs. Not having a Thai community around where I grew up, it made it difficult to keep a Thai identity despite being as immersed in it via my mother as was possible in the Midwest. At the same time, I never fully identified with mainstream American culture either for the obvious immigrant reasons as well as the legal reasons of my immigrant status which doesn’t afford me the same rights as citizens get.

My background has probably helped make it easier for me to identify with minority groups who have very little options as far as live entertainment options go. It has also probably helped me to understand how the live entertainment from our respective homelands resonate with each of us better than the majority of live entertainment that can be found here in the States can–not just the music, but also the dance and drama as well. That was even more apparent when I spent about a year doing write-ups for local (to Indianapolis) write-ups and previews of ethnic performances like Hindustani music concerts or Chinese Opera productions, or Salsa Band dance nights. Getting the feedback from members of those ethnic communities and the warm thanks and invitations to actually attend the events free of charge really drove the point home for me even more than my own personal experiences performing for them that there are sub-populations in the US that not getting what they want out of mainstream American culture.

And going back to you Glass opera example–and I’m not saying that Melissa’s Cantata is at all relevant as an analogy here since her work obviously has more contemporary social relevance than Kepler does–the disconnect you’re understanding between the content of the Glass opera and contemporary audiences is in similar ways no different than the disconnect between Western music genres and “non-Western” audiences. It has as much to do with a temporal and cultural gap as it does with a musical and aesthetic gap. For example, if Melissa had written her “Cantata” in Thai Classical Chant style rather than as a cantata, it would probably resonate with me even more. Or even had she written it as an Arabic wasla or Azeri mugham opera I might find it even more interesting. But she didn’t and there was no reason she should have since she had other reasons for writing it in the default art music style of the US/Europe and for most intents and purposes (for good or ill), the rest of the world.

As for why I get more satisfaction playing for underserved audiences (please note also that the world music group is only one ensemble I work with that plays music for underserved audiences) if some of the above hasn’t helped to make that obvious I’ll state it bluntly. I know what it’s like to have the pressure to assimilate into the dominant culture of the US and some of the social-psychology consequences that is a result of that pressure. I want to make it easier for immigrants or minorities to feel comfortable being who they are by showing that it’s 1) OK to perform music from your own background in more public forums, and 2) that there are people here in the states that do enjoy and appreciate non-Western music genres enough to make a stab at performing it publicly. In a nutshell, I’ve always viewed my function as a cultural ambassador–just one that happens to be making connections between populations within a country rather than between populations in separate countries.

In short–I tend to prefer the idea of a multi-ethnic nation to the idea of a melting-pot nation, if that makes any sense?.

Best,
Jon

I think this also underscores some of the things I just don’t have time for anymore as there obviously must be an “overserved” audience if we want to admit there’s an underserved one. And I really don’t feel the need to supply that audience with yet another live performance of a Beethoven Symphony or Beatles cover.

While I do still occasionally do things like this still, I’m much more interested in minimizing my activities in that direction because, you know as they say, “life is short” and as I say, “there’s a whole world of music out there” and I want to put energy in discovering the latter in my short time on this planet.

I think I’ll be blogging more about the whole idea of underserved audiences in the near future, but as this post is more than long enough as is, I’ll end it now.

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I don’t have time for this anymore

No, not this blog. The “this” I’m referring to is the general direction my musical activities have taken over the years. How I’ve managed to maintain the active performing and teaching schedule I have despite life’s occasionally getting in the way (mom’s leukemia ’08-’09; brother’s death last year) without “streamlining” is beyond me. I’m sure I’ve faltered along the way on many accounts but manage to get back up and keep plowing ahead.

But that’s the problem–the “keep plowing ahead” even when all the data tells me something might be a dead end, and in some ways wasn’t as rewarding as it could be (or used to be).

Sure, part of the problem is I still also have my “hobbies” outside of music (I have time for hobbies?) and even for my musical projects, I spend an inordinate amount of time doing tons of “non-musical” stuff (maintaining multiple websites and doing booking for many of my bands; running around Louisville/Southern Indiana to find sheet music for students; trying to develop very specific projects/presentations which is especially difficult when you get next to no input from other involved parties) that I slowly find myself less and less able to focus on the music (or teaching, as the case may be).

Granted–having dozens of hours of music (in too many genres and styles to list) that I need to keep under my fingers (and voice); on top of being part of some classical music groups which always requires me to learn new music for every show; as well as needing to be on top of music I need to teach (it can be tricky to teach something you don’t know, after all) it’s no wonder why I don’t listen to music anymore!

What I guess I must do is to start pruning the non-essentials (hence the streamlining reference in the first paragraph); get rid of the chaff; focus on the things that need to be focused on (including my students), including people who are actively collaborating/interacting with me or the projects I’m involved in; but most importantly create more time for me to do things rather than wasting so much time going down blind alleys. I just don’t have time for that anymore.

Mahler Project

I was tempted to call this the “Mahler Symphony No. 1 in D Major Project” but thought that might incline me to have an end point for the project.

As it stands, what I’ve decided to do (since I’ve decided I should go ahead and do this performance of Mahler 1 with the IU Southeast Orchestra) is start a blog detailing some of my thoughts, trials and tribulations regarding the process of learn, learning about and ultimately performing the work (the concert date, if I’m not mistaken, is 2011 April 17 – so mark your calendars!).

What often happens when I learn a new piece is that I’ll at least learn something about the work. Whether I’m just coaching a group of youths for a performance, or as in this case, learning a work for one of my own performances I will invariable want to find out something about the music and composer (if the latter is possible).

In this case, what I’ve learned so far is fascinating. The many revisions; the excised second “Blumine” movement; the recycling of musical materials from the Leider eines fahrenden Gesellen; the context surrounding the practice of “Bruder Martin” (otherwise known more familiarly as Frère Jacques); and Mahler’s Jewish background all contribute to an intriguing and compelling story.

Not that there isn’t an intriguing and compelling story to pretty much any piece of music, but it’s not one that I’d bothered to explore when I’ve performed this work in the past.

What I’d like to do is share some of this story as well as document the process of learning the cello part to the work as well as give some analysis of the actual composition (and possibly some comparative analyses with other versions of work and the aforementioned song cycle, Leider eines fahrenden Gesellen).

While the work itself doesn’t have as many difficult licks for the cello as, say, works by one of Mahler’s contemporaries Richard Strauss – especially if we’re just looking at the shear proportion of licks to composition length – I think, for some of my students at least, having a description of the learning process (and with luck some audio samples if I can manage it) could be of great pedagogical interest.

The analyses might be of more general interest to the readers of my blog as well, though I suspect it might be a bit tedious for a non-musical audience. It has been some time since I’ve had the opportunity to analyze a symphonic work but I would like to toy around with some analytical techniques I haven’t had a chane to play with for some time like Schenkerian or Musical Set Theory analyses (I might even throw in some snippets of Generative Music Analysis ala Lerdahl and Jackendoff) in addition to the standard Roman numeral analysis developed by Rameau that so permeates orthodox Western Art Music education.

If that doesn’t sound appetizing, well, there will be some historical and biographical posts that may be of more interest to a lay audience.

The big issue was deciding where to blog about this. I don’t want to clutter up my blog with this, and wanted to make the Mahler Project more of a stand alone work [in progress] so I’ve decided to start (yet) another blog for the purposes of collecting my writings about this subject.

As I’m in the process of overhauling the website as a whole anyway, and trying to figure out how to integrate all of my various blogs into one (while having the ability to keep them separate) I thought “why not add one more project to that stew” – it’s not as if I’m a busy person or something, right?

Anyway, I will post a link to the Mahler Project blog once I get that set up and running and by the beginning of the new year I hope to have it going full steam!

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Louisville Orchestra

So tonight (rather, last night) I went to what might (or might not) be the last concert given by the Louisville Orchestra.  I had been meaning to get to a concert for some time but having the concert schedule I’ve had just made it so difficult (one of “perks” of constantly performing).

Needless to say, it was a bittersweet affair.  I don’t really want to imagine my neck of the woods absent a full time professional orchestra.  At the same time, I’ve been predicting the slow demise of these seemingly anachronistic ensembles for various reasons I don’t want to get into here (read some of my previous posts for some of that diatribe).

What I would like to say is that, for good or ill, I would prefer this situation not be the case and in some ways I’m beginning to see a reaon (or many reasons) for why it is a bad thing to lose such a wonderful ensemble not the least of which being that I have many friends and colleagues who have put in many long years of hard work into the organization.

What I am beginning to realize is how ridiculous the situation is and for a variety of reasons, the economic ones notwithstanding.  I won’t get into some of the typical arguments here about why such an organization needs to be saved since that’s been said over and over by advocates of classical music in general.  What I think I’m going to start exploring are much more objective economic reasons why the demise of any symphony orchestra is a bad thing.

In the meantime, I would like to direct to a youtube video by the Louisville Orchestra Musician’s Association which was shown before the concert:

As well as the website for the Lousiville Orchestra Musicians Association:
http://www.lomusicians.org/

The latter link has information about ways you can help fight to keep Louisville Symphonic!

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Xenomusic for kids

So it looks like I might be giving a Xenomusic workshop for kids at ConGlomeration in Louisville next April.

“What is ‘Xenomusic’?” you might ask?

Well, basically, it would be the music of Alien races.  Sometimes referred to as “Exomusic” or more plainly “Alien music” or “Extra-Terrestrial music”–it’s all the same, really.

Ultimately, the idea, which was suggested to me by an online friend and frequent Con-goer, is something that just appeals to me.  One of the things I’ve missed (though at the time, I probably didn’t quite feel the same–heh) is working with kids.  While I as at Gymboree Play and Music that was my primary role–a music teacher that is.  But unlike most government sponsored music teachers (in the school systems) or private instructors (which function like tutors) I was actively involved in teaching groups of children between the ages of one to five.

Yeah, that’s right–between the ages of one to five!  Just think about that for a second or two.

The idea, well, at least my conception of the idea (since I did sign a form stating I wouldn’t publicly discuss the actual methods or philosophy behind Gymboree’s programs–trade secrets, after all) is that children don’t have to be a certain age to start learning something about, well, any subject.

Given what I know about the research on infant and child neurology and psychology, in a way, it would be better to start teaching music (if fluency in music is the goal) at a younger age rather than waiting till it gets taught in, say, kindergarten.

I won’t bog this blog down with copious links and references to the body of research dealing with early phonemic acquisition and the ties between language and music developmental neurology (you can find some links to research about that at my comparative neurocognition blog here for that!) because, there are far more interesting issues that don’t require a more technical knowledge of basic human neurobiology.

See, one of the things I love about teaching children (and young adults, for that matter–since that is my, um, “day-job”) is seeing the learning processes firsthand, but more importantly, given some kind of structured direction to what are already natural tendencies (along with language and art, music is one of the few universals that all human populations share as an activity).

And while, being a classical musician, I’ve had the opportunity to have tons of interactions with children through music as a result of outreach programs and in-school presentations, what I’ve been most dissatisfied with during the period when I was most active playing clubs and bars, and well, for the most part, the places that rock and pop music groups often perform is that there is this sharp divide between the all-ages scene and the 18+ (or 21+) scene.

Despite the fact that, in a sense, Western Art music is slowly declining, what I am going to miss most about this scene is the fact that [at least] in America, blind auditions for spots in, say, Symphony Orchestras actually happened as opposed to the fact that, say, in the pop and rock music scene you find what is mostly a boys world.

I’m still remembering a particular online forum thread discussion I had started at a local (to Indianapolis) music forum that got deleted (it was titled “Gender and Rock”–or rather, that’s what I had titled it).  And while the powers that be at that forum assured me that it wasn’t because of the touchy topic (I won’t go into some of the details of how “local band musicians” view women musicians here) but because of the forum pruning feature that lops off old threads.  Which would ring true some of the other very long discussion threads that I’ve started, which have been longer dead, weren’t still available to be viewed.

And wow–as much as I didn’t want this to be a rant about sexism in music, here we are–or rather, here I am.

*Steps back a bit*

Ok, so the best aspects of the American Western Classical music scene are on the decline just because it is on the decline.  This is arguable, of course, and that’s not the issue I’m concerned with.  Rather, the issue is, if it is on the decline AND if how it seems to be a bit more egalitarian than, say, other genres of music–then basically all the good things about the American Western Classical music scene are also slowly dwindling away.

And one of those many things just happens to be how actively involved with children this particular musical culture is.

That’s not to say that pop and rock musicians haven’t stepped up to the plate regarding engaging children–and that’s a good thing.  I’ve been seeing more and more programs and educators and entrepreneurs really making a stab at getting past the commercial or “rock star image” aspects of pop music (and I’ll make it clear that I mean “Western pop music” here–which includes rock and heavy metal and rap and country, etc).

That’s probably the subject for another blog.

Anyway, I want to give back more–and at an earlier level than the one I am currently engaged in (mainly k-12 right now) because, well, to restate the tired old adage:

“Children are our future”

tlhIngan QoQ (part 2)

I’ve set up a Klingon Music Project page for il Troubadore at the following url:

http://www.troubadore.com/QoQ/

It’s in the beginning stages for now but I will flesh it out as we get new content.

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thlIngan QoQ

This Friday and possibly Sunday I’ll be heading to Starbase Indy (the 15th Generation).  Partly to network and schmooze, partly just to be a fanboy rather than a performer or vendor, but mostly so that I can give out free copies of il Troubadore‘s Klingon music demo, “thlingan QoQ” to whomever will take one.  Cover art (by moi) is below:

il Troubadore's Klingon music album, "thlingan QoQ"Tracks will include excerpts from our Klingon Ballet “wa’SaD ram wa’ ram je” and other original tunes written in Klingon as well as some favorite Klingon War and Drinking songs.

Being a demo, it obviously won’t be a finished product, and we’ve also got to secure the reproduction rights for various franchise tunes–we’ll worry about that when we reach that hurdle.

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