Minnesota Orchestra lockout

Opportunity, Orchestras, Travel

Send Blogger Scott Chamberlain to Cuba!


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By Scott Chamberlain

Hello friends—I have some good news to share!

But first, a word of introduction.  I’m Scott Chamberlain, and for the last two years I’ve been writing about classical music, arts administration, and the music industry in general at my blog, “Mask of the Flower Prince.”  The blog’s genesis was rooted in the Minnesota Orchestra 2013-2014 labor dispute—I worked for the organization and performed with them many times as a member of the Minnesota Chorale, and through these and other connections I ended up having a front-row seat as the carnage unfolded.  As an independent writer, I was fairly free to speak my mind, and I built a solid reputation for providing commentary that managed to be both hard-driving yet fair.  

The Minnesota Orchestra lockout ended in 2014, but in rapid succession new labor disputes broke out with the Metropolitan Opera and the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra.  And I once again found myself at ground zero, proving analysis and rebuttals to false statement.

Fortunately, the year of labor strife is over (hopefully for a good long time!), and I’ve been able to write about much more enjoyable topics.  My goal has always been to make the world of classical music as understandable as possible for the broader public.  Well, understandable and exciting.  We have many great writers out there specializing in technical writing, musicology, and even reviews… I’ve tried to take a more populist route, to make the music and concert experience come alive.  And most of all, to tell good stories.

One other thing. As long-time readers of my blog know, my other life-long passion is Latin America. Prior to jumping into the arts I was in academia, teaching Latin American history at the University of Kansas.  I’ve long suspected I’m the only person on the planet to get into the arts for the better pay, better job security, and fewer politics.

Well… these two seemingly different fields of interest are about to combine.

The Minnesota Orchestra is scheduled to tour to Cuba in May—the first major cultural exchange of its kind since President Obama announced a new era of rapprochement between Cuba and the United States.

I’m thrilled to announce that I have been selected as one of the press members accompanying the Orchestra and reporting from Cuba!

I will be working with MinnPost, an outstanding media outlet based in Minneapolis that has fantastic coverage of the arts and cultural scene here in town. I’m hoping to provide reports from the road, along with a wrap-up.

It is an unbelievable opportunity—one that I would never have believed possible a year ago when the Orchestra lockout had just ended—and I am bouncing off the walls in anticipation!

But I could use your help.

As I am not (yet!) a member of the major media and don’t have the extensive resources of the major outlets around town, I will be financing the trip on my own. Members of the press are offered a discounted price to participate, but even so this trip will be pricey.

And so I have a favor to ask of all of you.

Do you support community-based writing?  Do you love laughing at behind-the-scenes anecdotes?  Do you enjoy stories have brought you closer to the music?  Are you intrigued to learn about music in Cuba? Have you read my articles and are now curious to read more?

If so, I invite you to consider making a donation of any size to my GoFundMe page that I’ve set up to help finance this tour. The total cost to the program with fees, and additional expenses is $5,250, and I’m putting up $1,000 of my own money to begin. Will you help fund the remaining $4,250?

With this support, I’ll be able to bring you up close to the action, and let you share in the excitement more or less as it unfolds.

One final note. As I’m posting this, I have not formally been given my journalist visa from the Cuban government. I don’t foresee a problem, but the departure date is fast approaching and I want to be ready. If there is any change of plans, rest assured that all contributions will be returned.

Thank you for your support!

Community Outreach, Future of Music

On Amateurs


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By Emily Hogstad

Thursday night rehearsal. I’m in a small room with twenty other string players, members of my local amateur string orchestra. I’m rehearsing a solo of the Piazzolla Oblivion. I shake my wrist out. I’ve got jitters for no reason at all.

***

Adult amateur musicians are almost universally embarrassed to play in front of otherpeople. An adult who has just come to classical violin (or just returned to it) will invariably apologize for how they sound. Self-deprecating jokes – with an edge of desperation – proliferate. The violinist.com discussion board regularly features entries from adult amateurs asking questions like: I’m the only adult at my teacher’s recital, should I even participate?

I can relate. If I’m ever complimented on my playing, I’ll smile graciously, but in the back of my head I’ll invariably think: honey, go to Minneapolis, watch a program of their Sibelius, and get back to me on how good you think I am.

Why?

I can think of any number of reasons. Maybe the attitude comes from increasing levels of specialization not just in music, but in all fields. Maybe it’s because the boundaries of the musical world have grown so dramatically, from Bach to Xenakis, that you need to spend your whole life studying to start to do any of it justice. The proliferation of professional musicians? The way that classical music itself often attracts people who are obsessive and self-critical perfectionists?

Regardless of the reasons why, the embarrassment is definitely a thing. And the more I think about it, the sadder it makes me.

***

Not long after I graduated from high school, I was getting my bow re-haired at a local violin shop and saw a flier advertising an intermediate-level string orchestra. I’ve been going every Thursday for the past five years.

What does music mean? I don’t know the answer. But I do know that during the desperation of the Minnesota Orchestra lockout, when I had a front row seat to the organizational convulsions we all thought were death throes, my Thursday nights kept me sane. They reminded me what I wanted music to mean: people with common interests spending time with each other, valuing teamwork, believing in self-education and self-improvement. There was a kind of purity about our time together that was hugely meaningful, that inspired me to work to see those same values reflected again at the Minnesota Orchestra.

***

It goes without saying that big symphony orchestras, the big professional institutions, have a hugely important place in our art form. We are all better off when musicians have jobs that enable them to fulfill their artistic potential at the highest level. We all benefit from seeing and hearing the current Minnesota Orchestra under Osmo Vänskä in a Sibelius symphony. That is inspiration. That is transcendence.

But one reason it’s special is because we amateurs can’t do what they’re doing. Our shortcomings make the full glory of their achievement possible, and special.

***

I wish big orchestras could be more connected with the amateur orchestras. I also wish the amateur orchestras could be more connected with the big orchestras. I’m convinced we have a lot to learn from one another.

To be sure, there are already some interesting partnerships happening. The Baltimore Symphony has a Rusty Musician program, where community musicians play alongside the pros. Fabulous idea, even though the name grates. (To my mind, if you can play a Tchaikovsky symphony, you’re a musician, period!) Before the lockout the Minnesota Orchestra had a Fantasy Camp. Boston has its “Onstage at Symphony.” More programs will doubtless follow.

And they all sound amazing. But they strike me as more good starts than the true fulfillment of possibility. Building relationships in whatever way possible is key, and I’m positive there are even more ways to do this.

In an era of handwringing over attendance figures, the Wall Street Journal reported in June in an article called “Orchestras Welcome Older Musicians“:

Across the U.S., older Americans are dusting off instruments—or starting anew—to play in orchestras. Figures are scarce, but music directors and others in the field report a significant increase in the number of amateur orchestras and chamber groups made up solely of people 50 and older.

Maybe if we can make the connections, some of those empty seats could be bought by passionate music lovers. And maybe if there are empty seats at any of the adult amateurs’ performances, a professional or two could visit ours, and bring a little bit of our excitement back into their demanding day jobs.

***

In December, during winter break, members of my little orchestra get together on our own time to work up some carols. We then go to various assisted living facilities and just play. It doesn’t matter that we haven’t won competitions, that we’ll never win a job in music…that we missed that shift, or that we can never get that one note to ring in tune with the others. In that moment, our hearts are light. So are our listeners’!

If you can draw out a sound from your instrument that is occasionally halfway beautiful, you are capable of instilling joy. Even amateurs. Especially amateurs. Take advantage of that fact.

***

So if you’re an amateur, I want to hear how you play. More than that, I want you to be proud of how you play. Unapologetically so. I want to congratulate you for caring enough about yourself and the art that speaks to you to take the time out of your busy day to do something as demanding as playing a musical instrument.

I’m not going to judge you against someone who had advantages you never had: fabulous teachers from the age of seven, connections made at summer camps, a family that had the cash to pay for lessons and instruments and competitions.

Be proud of who you are and what you’re accomplishing.

***

My performance of the Piazzolla Oblivion was the other day. I did very nicely. I was happy!
***

Emily E Hogstad is a twentysomething writer, violinist, and violist. She writes about the Minnesota Orchestra and other music stuff at songofthelark.wordpress.com.