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:
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
Every year at this time when most Americans are frantically finalizing their tax returns, we at the Elgin Symphony are remembering the anniversary of our first concert on April 17th, 1951 (while also working on our taxes, of course). Celebration is typically kept to a minimum in the ESO offices unless reaching a milestone year, but I did take the opportunity to look in detail at the framed program and photo on the wall from that first ESO performance.What I found quite fascinating was the programming put together by the late conductor and founding Music Director Douglas Steensland; it was much like “the shuffle” effect mentioned yesterday in John Ryan’s blog, with snippets of works here and there from a wide variety of time periods. The concert opened with Haydn’s London Symphony No. 104 (no surprise here), but they only performed the first and third movements. How often do we attend orchestra concerts in which only a portion of the symphony is performed?There were several examples of “Classical Music’s Greatest Hits” throughout, with the Andante Cantabile from Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 5, J.S. Bach’s “Little” Fugue in G Minor, Gliere’s Russian Sailors’ Dance, “Great Gate of Kiev” from Mussorgsky/Ravel’s Pictures at an Exhibition … you get the idea.But there were also some less predictable works: a Toccata by 17th century composer Girolamo Frescobaldi, and a string arrangement of an Air by 18th century English organist/conductor Jonathan Battishill. Additionally, collaboration with Elgin High A Cappella Choir in “Evening Prayer” and “Dream Pantomime” from Humperdink’s Hansel & Gretel rounded out the program beautifully.Personally, I love hearing complete works start to finish rather than samplings; but am I typical? Probably not. Should orchestras occasionally open up again to more “shuffled” programming?
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.
How did classical music as we know it come to be? What was it that inspired the great composers like Bach, Beethoven, and Bartok to write such lasting masterpieces? This Saturday, April 8, from 10AM-4PM with a lunch break, The Graham School of General Studies at the University of Chicago is offering a non-credit course called "What to Listen For in Classical Music." The course is being taught by John Gibbons, an accomplished musician, teacher, speaker, author, and fellow blogger. For $95, this guided tour through musical history will bring you a greater understanding of the music and the minds behind it.[Update: Amy Iwano and I posted within a minute of each other. Note that she also mentions John Gibbons's class on Schubert in her post below.]
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?