Jim Hirsch's blog

Planting a SEED and on to The Planets

Apr 26, 2006

The Chicago Sinfonietta recently hosted a performance of nine high school ensembles as a part of our SEED Program: Student Ensembles with Excellence and Diversity. The kids were terrific, and the event served as another reminder that things in the classical music world really will be okay. Yes, there is a new generation of musicians on the way and they can play. On May 5 at 7 p.m., the Sinfonietta and the Adler Planetarium will host a preview of our upcoming presentation of The Planets.  Adler astronomer, Dr. José Francisco Salgado, will show a preview of the video he created to harmonize with The Planets, and principal violist, Reneé Baker, will provide some insights into the music of Holst.  The event takes place during the Adler's Far Out Friday event and should be lots of fun. Speaking of fun, this concert now has a listing on the NASA Mars Exploration Program website.  This may be a first for an orchestra!

Student Musicians Take the Stage

Apr 19, 2006

For this installment, we welcome guest blogger Jeff Handley, Education/Outreach Coordinator and Principal Percussionist for the Chicago Sinfonietta.With the slashing of arts programs at our schools and fewer kids being exposed to classical music, you have to wonder where our future musicians will come from, not to mention future audiences. I began in my grammar school band, and my teachers greatly influenced my decision to become a professional percussionist. Without them, I might never have had such amazing experiences like playing for Wicked, Spamalot, and of course with the Chicago Sinfonietta. Most of my fellow musicians in the Sinfonietta relish the opportunities we’ve had and want to give back by exposing young people to the music we love. This season, we’ve done this through the Sinfonietta’s Student Ensembles with Excellence and Diversity (SEED) Program that brings our musicians into area high schools to mentor and teach young musicians how to perform in small ensembles. Musicians from the Sinfonietta had a lot of fun working with ensembles from five area high schools. The student musicians that we’ve mentored were already involved in music, but the SEED program allowed them to push to a higher level. Our educational outreach program focused on four goals:

  • Promoting ensemble playing,
  • Developing advanced listening skills to recognize intonation, rhythmic precision, balance and blend, and interpretation,
  • Recognizing contrast in musical styles (Renaissance, ragtime, Bach, etc.), and
  • Encouraging young musicians of color to see music as a viable long-term career.

The students did a great job and a few of them even performed at the Sinfonietta’s gala last week. We’re sponsoring a free concert next Monday to give these musicians a chance to shine on stage. You are invited to hear these talented young musicians perform! Monday, April 24 at 6:00Lane Tech High School2501 West Addison (corner of Addison and Western)-Jeff Handley


Apr 12, 2006

Last week a few of us went to hear Daniel Bernard Roumain  (DBR) and his group, The Mission, at Northwestern University’s “Harmonic Convergence” series.  By the way, kudos to Richard Van Kleeck and his staff for this wonderful series!  For those of you unfamiliar with DBR, he is a young, African-American violinist, pianist, and composer of Haitian descent who will be performing his Voodoo Concerto with the Sinfonietta on May 14th and 15th.    DBR combines urban and hip-hop influences with classical music to create unique and exhilarating textures of sound.  The New York Times said of DBR, “The dreadlocked, hip-hop-embracing composer is creating a miracle.”  I’m not a huge hip-hop fan myself, though I do like some Eminem  songs.  If what DBR does is defined as hip-hop, then count me in.

If It Walks Like a Duck

Apr 5, 2006

I seem to be thinking a lot about technology right now. My last post covered some thoughts I have about downloads and the lack of vision in the recording industry that were inspired by an article in the New York Times from a few weeks ago. So along comes yet another New York Times article – this one about music composed on computers written by Michael Walker. The article talks about how you can “compose” a piece of music using Apple’s amazing program, GarageBand. For those of you who haven’t wandered into an Apple store and played around with this program, it allows the user to assemble a piece of music by mixing a number of instrument tracks together into a song, or dare I say it, a composition. Can you compose great classical (or any other kind) music using computer technology? Sure. In the right hands, composition programs are a great tool for talented composers. But do we cross a line with a program like GarageBand? Is it a good thing if literally anyone can assemble a piece of music using a clever program like this? I’m all for musical democracy, but let's not remove talent from the equation. Classical music has to embrace technological change where it makes sense. Just look at the evolution of the piano from a technological basis.So this week’s question is, what do you think is the best use of technology in our field? Or, what use of technology in classical music is making you sick to your stomach?


Mar 29, 2006

My inbox has been filled the last few days with emails about an article published in the Sunday New York Times arts section by Barbara Jepson.

The article talks about some recent and exciting developments in the use of digital downloads for some of our major record labels and orchestras.  Yes, the ubiquitous ipod and itunes have finally begun to register with the decision-makers in the classical music world. My question is, “What took you so long?” 

Here’s what I don’t understand.  When television was widely introduced in the 40s and 50s, people wondered if it would supplant radio.  It soon did.  When cable television entered the scene in the 1970s, people again wondered if it would catch on.  By 1990 over 50 million homes had cable. 

Remember when people questioned if the Internet would become pervasive?  The widespread use of the net is just a little over 10 years old now and the rate of adoption of this technology is nothing short of breathtaking.  So what’s all the fuss about?

The fact is, the classical music field is coming late (though better late than never) to the use of digital technology.  Does anyone share my amazement (and amusement) that it took a computer company, Apple, and a renegade website, Napster, to lead the recording industry into a new mode of operating?

Seriously, what were the leaders of the recording industry thinking as they fought against the most efficient music distribution technology ever devised? And what are the leaders of the classical music world thinking when it takes them years to figure out what should have become apparent four to five years ago? 

This technology enables us to sell and distribute the music we love to almost anyone, anywhere, in real time. Let’s try leading the way in the future instead of coming so late to the dance.

So here is this week’s question: What other technology can we use to help promote the music we love?