The Well-Tempered Ear

Do these statistics about music lessons for children versus adults apply to you? Plus, the Madison Opera sets a new date for Kyle Ketelsen’s online tribute concert to Giorgio Tozzi

October 26, 2020
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ALERT: The Madison Opera has announced on Instagram that Kyle Ketelsen’s tribute concert for his teacher Giorgio Tozzi has been rescheduled for next Sunday night, Nov. 1, at 7:30 p.m CST. For more information and links about the concert and how to sign up for it, go to: https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2020/10/17/madison-opera-cancels-its-january-production-of-she-loves-me-tonight-is-the-last-virtual-concert-by-the-lunart-festival-of-music-and-art-by-black-women/

By Jacob Stockinger

It looks like children and students think of music lessons differently than adults do.

Take a look at the statistics from a study below, cited from Classic FM, and let us know if you share the findings and agree with it.

What are the implications for schools and education?

The Ear wants to hear;


Classical music: Acclaimed local soprano Sarah Brailey explains why performing artists and presenters need help during the COVID-19 pandemic

March 23, 2020
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By Jacob Stockinger

Sarah Brailey (below) is worried.

And with good reason.

Chances are good that you have seen the local soprano or heard her sing.

She is the artistic director of the Handel Aria Competition, which she herself won in 2015. (In the YouTube video at the bottom, you can hear Brailey sing the aria “Will the Sun Forget to Streak” from Handel’s oratorio “Solomon,”  with the Trinity Baroque Orchestra under conductor Julian Wachner, in the St. Paul Chapel in New York City.)

Brailey is a co-founder of and participant in the monthly free Just Bach concerts here. In addition, while pursuing graduate studies at the UW-Madison, she is a concert artist with a budding international career. For more about her, including a rave review from The New York Times and sample videos, go to: https://sarahbrailey.com

But right now the Wisconsin native is especially concerned about the lasting impact that the Coronavirus pandemic will have on her own career as well as on the careers of others like her and on the well-being of arts presenters.

Brailey (below, in photo by Miranda Loud) sent The Ear the following essay:

By Sarah Brailey

This is a scary time for everyone, but particularly for anyone who works as an independent contractor.

I am a freelance classical soprano based in Madison. I maintain a very active performing career, traveling all over the globe, and I am also a doctoral student at the UW-Madison Mead Witter School of Music.

When COVID-19 hit the United States, presenting organizations on the east and west coasts started canceling concerts to comply with social distancing recommendations.

I initially thought I was lucky to be living in the middle of the country where our lesser population density might save us. Plus, I am a Teaching Assistant at the UW right now, so I will still be getting my stipend — although teaching virtual voice lessons will be its own special challenge!

But many of my colleagues are not so lucky and are facing bankruptcy. If the government doesn’t include independent contractors in its relief packages, a lot of people are going to be insolvent.

And I myself am not immune. As the seriousness of the situation became clear, all my concerts in the next two months soon disappeared one by one.

While not being able to perform is emotionally devastating, these cancellations are also financially devastating.

There exists a clause in every standard performance contract called “force majeure” (superior force), which is idiomatically referred to as, “an act of God.” This clause excuses a party from not honoring its contractual obligations that becomes impossible or impracticable, due to an event or effect that the parties could not have anticipated or controlled.

This can come in handy for a presenter if there is, say, a blizzard that necessitates the cancellation of a concert. (This happened to me a few seasons ago with the Boston Symphony.) If the presenter will not make any money on ticket sales, they are not then further injured by having to pay the musicians for the canceled concert. (Below, Brailey sings Samuel Barber’s “Knoxville: Summer of 1915” with the Colorado Symphony.)

The ramifications of this pandemic are unprecedented. Every freelance musician I know is suddenly out of work. The current conventions put all of the upfront financial burden on the artists. We are paid in one lump sum at the end of a project. We do not get a fee for the countless hours of preparation.

We often book travel and lodging on our own dime, and are not reimbursed until the end of the gig. We pay for our own health insurance, and we cannot file for unemployment because our work is paid via IRS Form 1099 and not W2s. The abrupt work stoppage caused by this pandemic means insolvency – or even bankruptcy — for many artists. (Below, Brailey sings Handel’s “Messiah” at the famed Trinity Church on Wall Street in New York City.)

Many institutions — and, unfortunately, many of the bigger players like The Metropolitan Opera — are invoking force majeure without much regard for how their artists are struggling.

My colleague, tenor Zach Finkelstein, is covering this in great detail on his blog The Middle Class Artist, as is Alex Ross, the prize-winning music critic for The New Yorker. Read his piece on force majeure here.

However, there are also thankfully some good stories to tell. The Bach Society of Minnesota reimbursed all my travel expenses and is paying 75 percent of my fee, as is the Lyra Baroque Orchestra.

I am helping Zach keep track of the organizations that are helping their artists in this time of need. (Read about them here. Madison Opera is on the list.)

The arts are not just cultural enrichment; they are an essential part of our economy. In 2017, the industry contributed $877.8 billion, or 4.5 percent, to U.S. Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and employed over 5 million workers. We cannot afford to let this industry disappear. I fear that many individual artists and arts organizations will not recover from this. (Below, Brailey sings Johann Sebastian Bach’s “Magnificat” at the Bucknell Bach Festival.)

While we wait out this storm, I implore you to donate to a Madison arts organization. Here is a short list of recommendations along with some national relief funds for artists.

Local Arts Organizations

Madison Bach Musicians

Handel Aria Competition

Madison Early Music Festival

Madison Opera

Madison Youth Choirs

List of National Relief Funds


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Classical music: The international Handel Aria Competition launches a new showcase concert for local high school singers

November 16, 2018
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IF YOU LIKE A CERTAIN BLOG POST, PLEASE FORWARD A LINK TO IT OR SHARE IT (not just “Like” it) ON FACEBOOK. Performers can use the extra exposure to draw potential audience members to an event.

By Jacob Stockinger

The Ear has received the following announcement to post:

The Handel Aria Competition (below are the 2017 finalists) was established seven years ago to encourage emerging artists ages 18-35 from around the world to perform Handel’s vocal works.

We are pleased to introduce our newest project, the Handel Aria Competition High School Singers Showcase. Our goal with this event is to encourage high school singers in the Madison, Wisconsin area to explore works from George Frideric Handel’s extensive vocal repertoire.

We are inviting local voice teachers to help one or more of their students prepare a Handel aria or duet to be performed at the Handel Aria Competition High School Singers Showcase.

This concert, which will be free and open to the public, will take place at Capitol Lakes, 333 West Main Street in downtown Madison, at 2 p.m. on Saturday, Jan. 26, 2019. Piano accompaniment will be provided, and each singer will receive a $100 scholarship towards voice lessons.

Voice teachers with students who might be interested are encouraged to contact Handel Aria Competition Artistic Director Sarah Brailey (below) — herself a winner of the competition and now a graduate student at the UW-Madison — at handelariacompetition@gmail.com for more information. A limited number of performance slots are available on a first-come basis.

PLEASE NOTE: The 7th annual Handel Aria Competition will be Friday night, June 7, 2019 in Mills Hall at the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Mead Witter School of Music. (Below is a soprano Suzanne Karpov, First Prize winner of the 2018 competition. Many other performances from past years are on YouTube.)

Auditions for the competition via YAP Tracker, an online way to audition for opera and vocal competition, will open soon – and the deadline will be April 1, 2019


Classical music education: WYSO’s Youth Orchestra gives a FREE farewell concert on Tuesday night at Olbrich Gardens before departing on its tour of Peru. Plus, Wisconsin Public Radio host Norman Gillliand gets an award

June 30, 2018
1 Comment

By Jacob Stockinger

The 80 members of the Youth Orchestra of the Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestras will perform a FREE farewell or bon voyage concert on this coming Tuesday night, July 3, at 7 p.m. at Olbrich Botanical Gardens in Madison before departing on an international tour to Peru.

The conductor for both this concert and the tour to Peru is James Smith (below), the retired head of orchestras at the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Mead Witter School of Music and the retired music director of WYSO.

The program includes: the Overture to “West Side Story” by Leonard Bernstein (arranged by Peress); Oberture para una comedia (Overture to a Comedy) by Enrique Iturriaga; the Little Suite No. 2 by Malcolm Arnold (heard performed by a youth orchestra in the YouTube video at the bottom); and the Symphony No. 9 by Dmitri Shostakovich.

The historic city of Cusco, once the capital of the vast Inca Empire, is one stop along the way for WYSO students on tour. Other destinations include the Peruvian capital of Lima; Puno; Lake Titicaca; and the legendary Machu Picchu (below), a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The students will also perform with the National Youth Orchestra of Peru and attend one concert event.

For more about the tour, go to: https://www.wysomusic.org/international-tour-takes-wyso-students-to-peruvian-highlands-and-more/

Youth Orchestra violist Hannah Wendorf says she is looking forward to the experience.

“I am super excited to experience the culture of Peru,” Wendorf says. “I can’t wait to visit both the ancient and modern marvels the country has to offer. Performing for a new audience with friends is going to be amazing!”

Historically, WYSO’s Youth Orchestra has embarked every few years on an extended tour during the summer months for one to two weeks. An extended tour entails substantial expense and detailed planning over a two-year period. The Board of Directors Tour Committee and the WYSO staff are responsible for researching and investigating potential tours and coordinating all tour activities.

During the farewell concert, WYSO will also honor Norman Gilliland (below) with the Rabin Youth Arts Award in the Individual Artistic Achievement category.

Gilliland has been a classical radio host with Wisconsin Public Radio since 1984. He has featured interviews and performances by hundreds of young Wisconsin artists on the weekday classical program, The Midday.

For years, Gilliland brought weekly music lessons to classrooms all over the state as part of WPR’s School of the Air program. He was also a founder of WPR’s Neale-Silva Young Artists’ Competition, which between 1990 and 2013 recognized the accomplishments and artistry of hundreds of young Wisconsin musicians.

For more information about WYSO, including a schedule of concerts and how to join WYSO and support it, go to: https://www.wysomusic.org


Classical music education: How long should you practice each day? And how should you go about learning a new piece?

September 2, 2015
1 Comment

By Jacob Stockinger

Fall is just about here and school is starting.

In fact, today is the first day of classes at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and the UW-Madison School of Music.

That means a lot of undergraduate and graduate students there will resume music lessons.

And of course, private lessons are resuming as Labor Day approaches.

The Ear wanted to post something that seemed appropriate and germane. And what issue could be more central to music lessons that the question of practicing?

How long should a student practice?

How many hours a day?

Those are questions faced by most, if not all, music students and their parents -– and by a lot of teachers too.

Recently, The Ear came across one of the best answers.

The sensible and insightful answer was given by Pamela Frank, a concertizing violinist who has taught at the prestigious Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia since 1996. (In the YouTube video at the bottom, Frank also discusses how to learn a new piece of music. She has more insightful remarks to offer, including the role of using recordings.)

pamela frank

Now, Frank – who speaks from her own experience — is a string player.

But it seems to The Ear that her remarks apply equally well to the piano and to various other families of instruments –- winds, brass, percussion.

And here’s the payoff: She emphasizes the quality of practicing not the quantity, and the time commitment will seem pretty practical to many musicians.

For specifics, watch and listen to her video.

Here is a link:

http://www.theviolinchannel.com/vc-masterclass-pamela-frank-many-hours-practicing-everyday/

 

 


Classical music: Attention, adult music students and late-bloomers! Music-making by early starters amazes us, but music-making by late starters should startle us even more. Here is why from an NPR story about a writer who himself plays cello in an orchestra.

July 12, 2014
6 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

Last night, I heard a fine concert of works by Felix Mendelssohn and Franz Joseph Haydn performed by the Madison Area Youth Chamber Orchestra (MAYCO). The youth group was founded and is still directed and conducted by the young violist and conductor Mikko Utevsky, who is a scholarship student at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music.

Mikko (below) is very accomplished and clearly started viola lessons when he was very young, as I suspect most of the outstanding orchestra musicians and the exceptional piano soloist Thomas Kasdorf did. By the time he was a student at Madison East High School, Mikko had founded MAYCO. He had also spent many years in the Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestras.

Mikko Utevsky with baton

He is articulate and impressive, to be sure.

Truth be told, I am always impressed by the achievements of young musicians, whether they are pre-school or elementary school students in Suzuki classes or in piano recitals, or middle school and high school students.

wyso violas

But what about adult students?

The Ear knows many newly retired people who say they want to take music lessons but are reluctant and think it is simply too late to start and have any success.

Now, I will admit that feel lucky that I play the piano, which I think is easier to pick up again later in life, largely because the notes are there right under your fingers and you don’t need a great ear.

But other instruments — strings, winds and brass — can also be learned or resumed late in life.

As a way of encouraging such people, I offer this story from NPR. It is an interview with Ari L. Goldman (below top and in a YouTube video at the bottom), a journalism professor at Columbia University in New York City, about his  new book, a first-person account of resuming cello studies and participating in “The Late Starters Orchestra” (below bottom), which is  an orchestra made up of fellow late-starters, of older people and adult students.

ari l. goldman

Late Starters Orchestra cover

Enjoy –- and start practicing if that is what you really want to do — because it is possible.

Here is a link to the NPR story and interview:

http://www.npr.org/2014/06/22/324480108/almost-intermediate-adults-learn-lessons-in-late-starters-orchestra

 


Classical music education: Prize-winning Korean conductor and pianist Myung Whun Chung records an album of music that rewards and encourages piano students.

June 16, 2014
4 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

Spring is the time for year-end piano recitals, for piano teachers and students to show off their stuff as the school year ends.

Lutes 12 Maylynn Hu

If you are looking for something to give a young piano student -– or, for that matter, even an older piano student -– The Ear can’t think of a better gift than a new album from ECM Records.

It is the debut recital of solo piano works by the prize-winning Korean conductor and pianist Myung Whun Chung (below), whose fabulously musical family includes a famous violinist sister and a cellist brother with whom he recorded many famous trios by Antonin Dvorak, Johannes Brahms, Felix Mendelssohn and others. (Below, he is seen conducting at the BBC Proms.)

myung-whun chung

Here is a link to his biography:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Myung-whun_Chung

And here is a taste with some description from ECM:

http://player.ecmrecords.com/myung-whun-chung–piano

Myung Whun Chung recital cover

The CD features great sonic engineering. The piano sound is clear and upfront, not overly resonant and not percussive. The treble and bass are well-balanced. And the playing seems relaxed and natural, never tense or forced, whimsical or neurotic.

The album contains a variety of 10 pieces for different levels of playing, though most are for advanced beginners or intermediate students. As Chung explains at the bottom in a YouTube video, he made this album not for pianists, but for young people. We need more of that kind of caring and music education.

Fur Elise’ by Ludwig van Beethoven and Peter Tchaikovsky’s “Autumn Song” lead on to more difficult works like Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s Variations on “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star” as well as two Impromptus from Op. 90 (E-flat Major and G-flat Major) by Franz Schubert and two Nocturnes by Frederic Chopin.

The simpler “Traumerei” from “Scenes of Childhood” by Robert Schumann, which the great virtuoso Vladimir Horowitz always used as a signature encore, leads to the underplayed as well as harder and longer Arabesque by the same composer. (Below is Myung Wha Chung recording at the piano in a photo by Rainer Maillard for ECM Records.)

Myung Whun Chung at piano CR Rainer Maillard ECM Records

So there is a variety of learning levels built-in as a teasing incentive to push on to the next one.

But such playable beauty is its own incentive.

The CD makes clear that great music is not necessarily hard or virtuosic music. Chung’s “Fur Elise” is not rushed, but instead beautiful and unrushed Beethoven at his best.

I also like the way Chung opens the recital slowly with Claude Debussy’s “Clair de lune.” It proves an engaging and inviting way to set the mood, to calm the often hectic and nervy experience of a solo recital. (Below, Chung is seen playing on stage at the plush and warmly Old Word-elegant Teatro La Fenice in Venice in a photo by Sun Chung for ECM Records.)

Myung Whun Chung on stage at Teatro La Fenice in Venice CR Sun Chung ECM Records

You can see why Chung won second prize at the Tchaikovsky International Competition and why he guest conducts so frequently. He is a born musician. This is fine playing, not over-pedaled. Good rhythms and very fine tempi rule the day. And Chung demonstrates a fine use of rubato, or flexible tempi and timings, as well as a legato singing tone.

The album also serves as a reminder to piano students that there is more to music, and to possible professional and even prominent careers in music, than solo playing. The many famous conductors who went on from playing the piano include George Solti, Daniel Barenboim, Leonard Bernstein and, locally, both John DeMain of the Madison Symphony Orchestra and Madison Opera, and Andrew Sewell of the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra.

This CD reminds The Ear of the albums “My First Recital” and “My Second Recital” albums by the late Ruth Laredo. They too also had all good pieces, all very well played. The Ear thinks we could use more albums that help show how great musicians started and then got great. As for music education and music appreciation, it serves a similar purpose to Leonard Bernstein’s great “Young People’s Concerts.”

Ruth Laredo BW

Sure, I would have liked to hear something included by Johann Sebastian Bach, who is so essential to learning music — maybe one or two of the Two-Part Inventions that most piano students get to know. Or maybe one of the easier Preludes from “The Well-Tempered Clavier” or a movement from one of the French or English suites.

But then you could also ask for some of the easier Chopin preludes, mazurkas or waltzes, or maybe a Brahms Waltz.

Maybe those will come in a sequel, and maybe by next spring’s recital time.

One can hope –- and listen to this lovely recording while waiting.

But for this lesson, in any case, Myung Whun Chung — seen below in photo by Jean Francois Leclerq for ECM Records– gets a gold star.

Myung Whun Chung CR Jean-Francois Leclerq ECM Records

 

 

 


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