Observations and provocations
from The Times' Opinion staff
We recently took Sarah Palin to task for dismissing the National Endowment for the Arts as a waste of tax dollars. Art, we argued, matters to human development and the economy. In the case of classical music, art also deters crime. More specifically, it sends misbehaved teenagers scattering. David Ng at Culture Monster reports:
Whether its Handel piped into New York's Port Authority or Tchaikovsky at a public library in London, the sound of classical music is apparently so repellent to teenagers that it sends them scurrying away like frightened mice. Private institutions also find it useful: chains such as McDonald's and 7-Eleven, not to mention countless shopping malls around the world, have relied on classical music to shoo away potentially troublesome kids.
In the latest example of classical repulsion, the regional transit department in the Portland, Ore., area has been playing orchestral and operatic tunes over speakers at light-rail stations in an attempt to prevent vandalism and other crimes that result from teens having too much free time on their hands.
Theories differ as to why teens react to classical music this way. Some experts believe the music has a soothing effect, while others think it has to do more with negative neurological response. Either way, if this genre of music prevents crime by teens perhaps we ought to invest more on classical music. Another argument in favor of classical music: It can also inspire students in the classroom to learn.-- Alexandra Le Tellier
Credit: The TriMet light-rail service in Portland, Ore., has begun playing classical music at train stations in an effort to ward off the kind of crimes that happen when people just hang around. A bill making its way through the Oregon Legislature would expand the program to all light-rail stops in Clackamas, Washington and Multnomah counties deemed high-crime areas by police or residents. Credit: Rick Bowmer / Associated Press
Vanessa-Mae,a young violinist, now twenty-four, took the world by storm when she was just sixteen with the release of her first 'pop' album: *The Violin Player*. Touted as a "Child Prodigy" many in the Classical community were excited with this new exciting star who had already released 3 Classical CD's when she was 12 & 13, had toured with orchestras and participated in many TV appearances with professional aplomb. It was early 1995 when Vanessa strongly came onto the music scene with her hugely successful Pop CD, "Then Violin Player". The Classical elitist were appalled that their prodigy had released a "Pop" CD packaged as Classical. But the world soon fell in Love with Vanessa and her brand of Music, a blend of Classical, Pop and Jazz. Vanessa mesmerized audiences with her compositions and charismatic personality. Vanessa also dressed to kill causing an additional uproar from a few stodgy Classical elitists, But it is her mastery of the violin, which left listeners in awe.
I was sitting in a converted barn in Vermont not long ago, listening to a small band make very beautiful music, an ethereal blend of bluegrass, folk and rock, led by Alicia Jo Rabins, a petite woman with a violin. As she sang a delightfully sad love song, my eye was drawn to her violin, ordinary and unembellished, which she held with extraordinary care, as if it were a butterfly or a baby. When I went up to buy her CD’s after the concert, Rabins, the lead singer of the band Girls in Trouble, mentioned that she was about to go on the road in Europe. Her violin rested near her under the table in a well-worn case, locked. She glanced at it continually as we spoke, clearly an accustomed reflex. “Excuse me,” she said, and bent to move it farther out of the fray.
I began to wonder about that gesture and what was behind it. I’m a writer; my computer is my instrument, and though it has a keyboard, it’s low-maintenance, generic and ever ready. Once in a while I vaguely dust it. But musicians rely much more heavily on far more particular machines. Were violins temperamental? How would Rabins protect hers from the inevitable bumps of planes and trains and automobiles on her tour?
“Oh,” she said, when asked, “I would never, ever check my violin. If I’m traveling with it, I always keep my foot on the case so I’m connected to it at all times.” Rabins, who travels two to three months a year as a working musician, describes herself as the “least uptight violinist I know,” yet her upkeep of the violin includes rehairing the bow, revarnishing the wood, wiping it down after concerts as one would a racehorse, keeping it out of smoke-filled clubs and taking it in to have its neck uncurved. “Not long ago,” she said, “I was playing this concert in Venice, it was two in the morning, completely magical, but then it started to rain. I stopped playing and put the violin back in its case right away.” Magic doesn’t trump potential damage, not even in Venice. The violin Rabins played that evening in Vermont is the same fairly inexpensive one she’s been playing since she was 15. When she travels the world, her two other violins and a viola remain on the walls of the apartment she shares with her husband (also a musician), his upright bass, three guitars, an electric bass and a ukulele.
To the musicians who play them, instruments are simultaneously tools, fetishes and beloved companions; whenever I asked a musician about caring for his or her instrument, the conversation kept veering back to love. “I have a Slingerland snare drum from the ‘60s that I would marry if I could,” sighs Melissa Houston, a rock drummer. “It’s beautiful.” Thomas Bartlett, a pianist and keyboardist who performs as Doveman, was given a nineteenth-century Steinway baby grand by his parents when he was 12. It’s still a prized possession, but even dearer to his heart is a 1970s Wurlitzer electric piano that, he says flatly, “doesn’t leave my house.”
In the airier reaches of musicianship, the relationship with the instrument is no less charged, and the financial stakes are often high. The “Lady Tennant” violin, made by Stradivarius in 1699, sold at Christie’s for $2.03 million; Eric Clapton’s “Blackie” guitar—originally assembled for a few hundred dollars from recycled guitar parts—fetched $959,000. B.B. King ran into a burning building to rescue his beloved guitar, Lucille, a Gibson acoustic he’d bought for $30. One of Yo Yo Ma’s favorite cellos hails from Venice, 1733; it is valued at $2.5 million, a fact that might have given Ma pause when he accidentally left it in a taxicab in 1999. (It was returned intact.) In the world of classical music, concert-quality stringed instruments run anywhere from the tens of thousands of dollars up to the millions; bows range from $100 to $40,000. The Juilliard-trained violist Nadia Sirota, who plays with new music groups, uses a $28,000 viola. Anything less expensive, she says, makes it difficult to get hired by a serious orchestra. The care of a $5 million Stradivarius violin isn’t vastly different from the care of a $5,000 one made by John Doe — humidity, temperature changes and general knocking around are the enemies. The greatest danger to classical instruments of such high value lies in not being played; they can’t maintain their resonant, complex sound – or their value – locked away in a cabinet. “They’re really just delicate pieces of wood that are glued together,” says Sirota. “If they’re not played, they get totally out of shape.”
Not only does the musician need the instrument; the instrument needs the musician. Drumheads, it turns out, are quite sensitive to noise as well as temperature. Drums absorb atmospheric vibrations and must be retuned just prior to show time. Drummers always travel with duct tape, for emergency re-attaching of a drum’s many moving parts. Upright basses wear all their guts on the outside and must be handled with great delicacy. Pianos get thirsty. “Everyone in my family was always saying, ‘Thomas, it’s time to water the piano,’ ” recalls Bartlett. The responsibility of a musician to his or instrument is both material and emotional – the musician who only touches the instrument in performance doesn’t know what it needs to make its truest sound.
And the instruments, like living creatures, seem able to sense neglect. Ronnie Buttacavoli, a trumpeter who plays in a Broadway orchestra, says that horns of all varieties respond not only to temperature and humidity, but also, because they’re wind instruments, to the body and breath of the player. Horn players with higher levels of acid in their saliva or sweat tarnish the instrument faster, and the horn can return the insult: if the horn isn’t cleaned properly, bacteria will linger there, sickening and re-sickening the one who plays it, like something out of a fairy tale. “It’s a relationship, for sure,” says Buttacavoli. “Music is the translation of what’s inside me through the instrument.” If the instrument isn’t well, the music suffers, and so does the musician. Buttacavoli’s most treasured instrument is a 1958 Bach Stradivarius B-flat trumpet, bought for him by his parents, which he still plays at his best gigs. “It’s got a core sound that’s right on the money—not too thin, not too fat, not too edgy, not too dull.”
The beauty of these living machines is enchanting. It isn’t hard to see how a musician could become enamored of his or her instrument and its unique personality—the drum, the trumpet, the Wurlitzer electric piano that seems to have been waiting for you, and only you, to play it, care for it, know it well. I begin to wish I had an object so magical and strange, and even difficult, with which to make my art. But when I ask Rabins what the hardest instrument is to maintain, she replies without hesitation: “The voice. It’s irreplaceable. You can’t just leave it at the shop.”
Stacey D'Erasmo is the author of the novels Tea, A Seahorse Year, and The Sky Below. She teaches writing at Columbia University.
SARATOGA SPRINGS — Union College has become the multi-year title sponsor of Saratoga Performing Arts Center’s arts education program for children, “Classical Kids.”
Designed as an introduction to the classical performing arts, the program for elementary and middle school students combines live, in-school demonstrations by professional dancers and musicians with attendance at SPAC to experience world-class performances by the New York City Ballet and The Philadelphia Orchestra.
“Union College’s multi-year Title Sponsorship of Classical Kids is a milestone moment for this program which has touched the lives of more than 50,000 schoolchildren since it was founded in 1993,” said SPAC President Marcia J. White said. “We are tremendously grateful for Union’s support, which will help us maintain program quality and move toward new goals. Our educational institutions, our young people and the arts community all benefit from the effort to make the classical performing arts accessible for the next generation; I applaud Union for taking a leadership role in this area.”
Classical Kids was first created in 1993 at the suggestion of former SPAC board member and Union graduate James Taylor, president and owner of Taylor Made in Gloversville. Noting the lack of performing arts education programs in his community’s local school, Taylor developed the concept and provided initial funding to launch the program.
The only program of its kind in the region, “Classical Kids” is a partnership between SPAC and local school districts that integrates classroom study of classical works and in-school demonstrations by music and dance professionals. Students who successfully complete the program receive two SPAC season lawn passes for classical performances each year, until they graduate from high school.
The lead artist for the in-school dance presentations is Marcus Rogers, Assistant Director of the Dance Program at Union College. Rogers also teaches dance at several local dance schools including Northeast Ballet and Berkshire Ballet and is a professional dancer who has performed in national touring productions and in principal roles for several dance companies.
Orchestral demonstrations are led by Robert Cafaro, a cellist and prominent member of The Philadelphia Orchestra. Cafaro is also an avid soloist and chamber musician who performs in major cities around the globe. Cafaro is a dedicated educator who teaches courses at the University of Virginia, the Philadelphia College of Bible, the College of New Jersey, the Hartwick Summer Music Festival in Oneonta, Strings International, and the Summer Strings Seminar in Rhinebeck.
Learn more at http://www.fromthetop.org
The duet took place to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Russian astronaut Yuri Gagarin’s first manned space flight in 1961. In her introductory remarks Coleman said that in addition to recognizing Gagarin, "We would like to celebrate the role that humans play in the exploration of our universe - past, present, and future.” She performed in zero gravity and whimsically let her flute float around as Anderson spoke at the end.
"We should remember that today's cosmonauts,scientists and astronauts are are still every bit the rocket heroes they were fifty years ago," the musician observed before saluting Coleman's image with the admonishment, "Go safely."
by Jessica Fairley
ALBANY, GA -- You don't see many teens listening to classical music like Bach, but at Albany State University's campus on Monday, you could find plenty.
You don't see many teens listening to classical music like Bach, but at Albany State University's campus on Monday, you could find plenty.
Violinist Gareth Johnson showed up to the campus to keep his profession alive.
"Our genre of music will fall off if we don't spread it among the youth," said musician Gareth Johnson.
Among the students was Amy Brooker. She brought her instrument to the course to pick up some lessons and take the once in a lifetime opportunity to play with the master.
"He helped me with a bunch of techniques and also gave me good information as far as practicing and things I can do at home to improve," said student Amy Brooker.
Gareth told Fox 31 News that his audience is usually filled with older people. Monday's class was different because ASU's auditorium was filled with bright eyed students and only a sprinkle of faculty.
By Ellen Crean
(CBS) If your New Year's Eve plans include listening to an orchestra (like the Boston Pops, the Atlanta Symphony, or any number of other groups around the U.S. which are offering concerts), you might be surprised by the number of teenagers listening right along with you. The Early Show's Tracy Smith has more in this week's "Study Hall" report. Thanks to younger, hipper artists, classical music is slowly finding a younger, hipper audience, as teens are discovering that Beethoven and Bach can actually rock.
Take, for instance, Joshua Bell, a musician who has won the hearts of teens all over the world – by playing the violin. While no one's rushing the stage at his concerts, 11,000 fans log on to the Joshua Bell fan site each month to chat about him, including 16-year-old Sarah Bollenbach, who says, "I was surprised by how many teenagers there were. They had a topic, 'How old are you?' And a lot of them were 15, 16, 17. You know? And I was like, 'Wow. OK!' I thought it was cool." Bell dispelled the stuffy stereotype of the old classical musician more than 15 years ago, when he released his debut solo album, complete with a music video. He recalls, "My first record cover when I was 19, I had jeans on, which was almost never done. I got a lot of flack about it from the critics. And it took me a while to win them over." He easily won over audiences, too. His latest work, "Romance of the Violin," was the no. 1-selling classical CD in 2004. And now, record labels eager to capitalize on the craze are signing "classical crossovers," young musicians with an edge, like violinist Vanessa-Mae, pianist Maxim, and the all-girl quartet Bond.
Even "American Idol" curmudgeon Simon Cowell has gotten into the classical game, forming Il Divo, the boy band of the classical crossover world. Classical fan Sarah and her friends even started their own group, Volante. It's more Bach than Britney, and they like it that way. They're currently playing the elementary school circuit, but who knows? If they can strike a chord with even younger kids, they may be fighting it out with Joshua Bell on the charts someday. As Bell himself explains, classical music is cool. He adds, "You don't have to change the music. You don't have to make it hipper. It's the things around it that we need to take opportunities to reach younger people in the way that other forms of music do." And this phenomenon isn't limited to the United States. Great Britain's classic FM TV plays classical music videos 24 hours a day, and they say that nearly a quarter of the 9.1 million viewers who have tuned in are under age 20.
The nice thing about most “classical” music is that it was written long before any kind of recording technology was available. Unlike today, when you can listen to almost any piece of music whenever, and as often as you like, composers knew that you might only get one chance to hear their music. So most good classical music is written to be understood and enjoyed the first time you hear it.
That’s not to say that it doesn’t benefit from careful listening, from repeated listening, and maybe even doing the odd bit of homework in advance. Lots of traditions have grown up around classical concerts, and they’re all there to help you enjoy a piece of music the first time you hear it. A century ago, that might have been the only chance you ever got to hear it the way the composer intended! So concert programmes include programme notes, giving the background on a piece; concerts are listened to in silence (so everyone has the chance to hear the music); and sometimes there are pre-concert talks explaining the music (check the venue’s website to find out). These are all, still, great ways to help you get the most out of a live performance.
But really, you just need to listen. That’s something different from the way you hear music during everyday life. We’re always hearing music from the TV and in shops, and many of us use it as a background while working or relaxing. A live concert is different. You can’t just switch it on or off – what you hear is completely unique, and it’ll only happen once. It’s not available on any recording, and it’s being performed by living, highly-skilled people, right in front of you. They’ve dedicated years of their lives to preparing what you hear tonight. What they do is difficult, nerve-racking and unrepeatable – and they want you to enjoy and respond to it.
So prepare yourself for a concert. Get there a little beforehand, give yourself time to relax and get into the mood for a very special experience. And once the music starts, give it a chance to work on you. If it’s exciting, go with that, and don’t worry if you find yourself tapping your feet or nodding your head a bit. If it seems boring, or you can’t make out the tune – well, odds are that’s what the composer intended. Trust them - they know what they’re doing. They may be preparing the ground for a surprise, or deliberately trying to lull you into a dreamy state. Enjoy it for what it is. Adjust yourself to the music’s pace, and keep listening. Music is all about taking you to a different world, and giving you the chance to experience emotions you never knew you had.
Richard Bratby is a music critic for Metro and The Birmingham Post, writes programme notes for various UK orchestras and music festivals, and works as Events Officer for the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra.