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Thursday, December 11, 2014

Changes*

When I moved to Pennsylvania in 1989, I was struck by the contrasts in the classical music scene.  One could perform in a group of just about any level, and some of them were quite good, even the ones at the community (amateur) level.

One city boasted four "professional" concert bands, including one whose recordings get played frequently on WRTI, the public radio station out of Temple University. Being a solid player at the time, I was flummoxed when the first question out of everyone's mouth was, "are you a union member?".  Since I wasn't, I didn't get work, even though I could play rings around most of the local talent. This probably stems from the union shop atmosphere in the region, who had lost the major employer due to union nonsense. It was immortalized in a song by Billy Joel.  Some in the area still haven't forgiven him.

2) The leader of one of those bands was also the personnel director of the local Symphony orchestra, which meant that he got first crack at wind, brass, and percussion players who auditioned for the ASO.

3) There were three local professional orchestras, all staffed by pretty much the same players.

4) The local chamber music society seems to think that only orchestral string players and pianists play chamber music, and that's all they program. To be fair, they do have a "special relationship" with a local youth orchestra (translation: the kids get 10 minutes as a curtain raiser for no pay), and they are having a brass quintet fulfill this purpose once this season.

5)  One of the local community choirs had a gala fundraiser recently with a world-renowned performer who has performed many contemporary pieces. Her program that night? Bach, Beethoven and Brahms on the first half, and salon-style, I-can-play-this-faster-than-you pieces on the second. Yawn.

6) One of the local colleges built a new (and admittedly very nice) performing arts center. The opening concert featured no less than the New York Philharmonic, playing Bernstein's Overture to Candide, and Brahms' First and Second Symphonies--well performed, I'm sure, but a program they could have done in a drunken stupor. The next two visiting orchestras played Brahms First and Brahms Second.  I called them on that nonsense in the local paper, saying that the audiences in that area deserved better. To their credit, they did respond to me, but they didn't take me seriously. They should have.

7) Most ticket prices are exorbitantly high and will likely remain so.
Symphony Orchestra--$19-$52/$10 for students
Choir: $35-$36/$9
Chamber orchestra: $25-$35
College theater: $15-$22/$8
Same college's summer theater: $33/$18
Private college symphony orchestra concert: $18
Private college band concert:$15/$5
Private college choir concert: $15/$5
Community theater: $20/$10

I'm reminded of the trend in professional sports towards smaller stadiums.  Fewer seats means higher ticket prices--and many of these groups play in relatively small houses.

8) The only public college in the region (actually about 30 miles away) doesn't have much of a music department.  The region's private colleges, on the other hand, have well regarded music programs, but again, ticket prices remain unaffordable for many.

So what's the solution?

It could be argued that failure to pay union scale or better will cause the best players to go elsewhere. It has happened, and there's no reason to believe it won't continue to happen. Grants are out there, but with every arts group competing with a seemingly shrinking resource pool, some will swim, but surely too many will sink.

David Bowie, Hunky Dory, 1971.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

The Call*

Today marks one month since I started at Rowan University, and to say it's been a challenge woefully understates the case. I have learned to do so much in the way of original and copy cataloging, and have had my reference skills tested on more than one occasion (note to self: finish the 18 questions from Bob). It's less than an hour till I go home.  I've worked on a couple dozen pieces of music today ranging from Bach chorale preludes to the Walton Viola Concerto, cleaning up records and adding barcodes, and getting around the University infrastructure.  People are getting to know me--but when you're 6'4", you're hard to miss.

This month, I've:
--hired one employee
--fired one employee
--commenced training for the Music Library staff
--worked on various phases of cataloging over 100 items
--nearly completed the workstudy manual for the Music Library
--successfully completed weekly payroll duties
--assisted students in a wide array of reference needs.

Bob, my immediate supervisor, Jim, my predecessor, and Mark, his predecessor, have been remarkably patient as I discover how much I don't know, and have been able to get me to melt my iron will enough to want to ask for help.

I do enjoy working here very much, and whether I stay a year or ten will largely depend on how I handle the work.

St. Jerome, Pray for us!
SS. Cecelia and Gregory the Great, Pray for us!

Onward.

*--from Five Mystical Songs by Ralph Vaughan Williams, 1906-1911.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Romany Life*

Just a quick blurb to welcome the 30th country to visit the blog--Romania, who put down nineteen hits today. Great to see you.  Just a gentle reminder that discourse on this blog is welcome and too infrequent.  Answer back, will ya?

*--Victor Herbert, 1898.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

The Victors*


I can't believe it.

The call came out of the blue last Friday, and it's totally changed my life.

The director of the music library at Rowan University (Glassboro NJ) called and asked if I would still like a job. I was in utter shock; he told me that my name was high up on the list of candidates for a position that I applied for in the beginning of 2014, but for some reason wasn't selected for an interview.  Anyway, there's been a lot of movement in the department and now they need someone to fill in on an adjunct basis, with the definite possibility of moving to a permanent position.

There are a couple of down sides to this development.  First, on the purely silly: I can't run the practical joke I was going to play on the local classical music radio station, and I'm really vexed about it. Second, if the job becomes permanent, I have to establish residency in New Jersey. My girls want to finish high school where they are.  I can apply for an exemption to the rule, but who knows what it will take?

On the other hand, my dream of working in an academic situation to help my kids pay for school is about to come true. God is good, and he has truly showered his blessings on me this week. Combined with getting to do a concerto with the Warminster (PA) Symphony, this has been one of my best weeks ever. Alleluia!

I must get some sleep. Onward.

*--Louis Elbel, 1898. Fight Song of the University of Michigan. Go Blue!!!

UPDATE:Yesterday evening, of one of the best days of my life, I attended rehearsal for Archdiocesan Choir.   We sang music of Faure, Stanford, Palestrina, Mozart, and Herbert Howells.  At the end, we did Vaughan Williams' O Clap Your Hands. Perfect end to a near-perfect day. My heart is full.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

The Strife is O'er*

The strife is o’er, the battle done;
The victory of life is won;
The song of triumph has begun: Alleluia!

In the Lutheran tradition (and other Christian churches, I'm sure), the funeral service emphasizes the Resurrection, with corresponding hymns.  I couldn't think of a better prelude to my remembrance of my high school orchestra teacher, Gerrit Van Ravenswaay. This was originally posted on Facebook:


Today I learned of the passing of my high school orchestra teacher, Gerrit Van Ravenswaay, or as most of his students called him, “Mr. Van”.  Although it’s been over thirty years since I last played under his baton, the lessons I learned in his 5th period orchestra remain with me to this day.  My first concert with the orchestra featured the Grand Rapids-based Jubal Brass Ensemble, who joined us on the finale for a performance of the last movement of Mendelssohn’s “Reformation” Symphony.  As a lowly sophomore tooting away on my Bundy trombone, I felt overwhelmed, overmatched, and really out of place. He didn’t have to say anything; the expectation was that I would improve, and even though I earned a Bachelor’s and Master’s degree in Music, I’m still practicing, forty-plus years later.

The music was always important, and Mr. Van challenged us with the best. Symphonies by Beethoven, Mendelssohn, and Haydn, student performances of concertos by Lalo, Wieniawski, and Gordon Jacob, and Wagner’s Parsifal were all on the program during my time at Holland High.  He encouraged us to seek out more demanding performance venues, like Grand Rapids Youth Symphony, music camps, and All-State ensembles.

But the music, as exalted as much of it was, paled in comparison to the life lessons we learned.  He had so much to teach that would make us better people and better citizens, and I remember the orchestra would sit patiently while Mr. Van held forth on some topic totally unrelated to what we were playing that day.  It never seemed like preaching—although I can imagine some folks might have seen it that way—and  I often wondered what his sons Steve and Gary, as well as his daughter Julie, were thinking as we sat together in class.

The people with whom I performed in the Holland High School Orchestra have grown up and grown older, and some perform on the instruments they did in high school, but most have gone on to other things. I won’t say I was one of the lucky ones; even though a good part of my adult life has been spent performing music of the great composers—which is truly a blessing, make no mistake—the greater blessing was to have learned life lessons from Mr. Van as a trombonist in his orchestra, and later as a teaching colleague and trusted friend.  Thank you, Mr. Van, and well done, thou good and faithful servant.

Amen.
Onward.

*--Words: Un­known au­thor, poss­ib­ly 12th Cen­tu­ry (Fi­ni­ta jam sunt prael­ia); trans­lat­ed from La­tin to Eng­lish by Fran­cis Pott, Hymns Fit­ted to the Or­der of Com­mon Pray­er, 1861.

Music: Vic­to­ry (Pal­es­tri­na), Gi­o­van­ni P. da Pal­es­tri­na, Mag­nif­i­cat Ter­tii To­ni, 1591

Sunday, August 3, 2014

One More River to Cross*

A college classmate and fraternity brother shared this with me recently. I had taken a buzzfeed quiz as to which Warner Brothers character I was and got Wile E. Coyote. My friend had an interesting take on it that seemed to fit in our current struggles to find meaningful employment in our field:

"Wile E. Coyote and Winston Churchill had a lot in common. He said that success was the ability to go from one failure to another with no loss of enthusiasm. I guess you are in great company with Winston and Wile."
Onward.
*--Traditional,  http://www.negrospirituals.com/news-song/one_more_river_to_cross.htm via "Spirituals", by William Stiickles, coll. 1948.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

All By Myself*

I'm taking a MOOC through Coursera on copyright law that is offered by Duke University. Started last week, and find it to be as thorny and complex as it was when we covered it at Clarion (I've forgotten which class).  One of the discussion board posts had to do with the student's school or employer policy on personal work and copyright.  As I wasn't aware if we had one, I inquired first of my library director (no response) and then the director of the main library of our county system--who referred me to the executive director, who informed me that the county didn't have a policy, but that I would have to check with my employer, who either would or wouldn't have a policy. I'll take that as a no.

I have to wonder about the viability of such a "system", where it's clear that the right hand doesn't know what the left hand is doing--or otherwise doesn't care. That and $8.50 an hour might get you a cup of coffee. Onward.

*--Eric Carmen, Eric Carmen, 1975