call to adventure

Call to Adventure
National Taiwan Normal University
Taipei, Taiwan

The first stage of the mythological journey--which we have designated 'the call to adventure'--signifies that destiny has summoned the hero and transferred his spiritual center of gravity from within the pale of his society to a zone unknown.... it is always a place of strangely fluid and polymorphous beings, unimaginable torments, superhuman deeds, and impossible delight.

Joseph Campbell
The Hero with a Thousand Faces



Voices: Creativity

Wishes come true, not free.
- Stephen Sondheim

If there's a book you really want to read, but it hasn't been written yet, then you must write it.
- Toni Morrison

Courage is the price that life exacts for granting peace.
- Amelia Earhart

The best way to make your dreams come true is to wake up.
- Paul Valery

A ship in port is safe, but that is not what ships are built for.
- Benazir Bhutto

It takes courage, curiosity, and guidance to enter unfamiliar places, especially when they are inside you.
- Alexander Bernstein

Creativity is essentially a lonely art. An even lonelier struggle. To some a blessing. To others a curse. It is in reality the ability to reach inside yourself and drag forth from your very soul an idea.
- Lou Dorfsman

What is happening in your innermost self is worthy of your entire love.
- Rainer Maria Rilke

I believe that each work of art, whether it is a work of genius or something very small, comes to the artist and says, 'Here I am. Enflesh me. Give birth to me.'
- Madeleine L'Engle

The possession of creative talent appears as a doubtful blessing: a Janus-faced endowment, which may bring fame and fortune, but is incompatible with what, for the ordinary person, constitutes happiness.
- Anthony Storr

There is no great genius without a mixture of madness.
- Aristotle

Our souls with high music ringing;
O men! It must ever be
That we dwell, in our dreaming and singing,
A little apart from ye.
- Arthur O'Shaughnessy, Ode (The Music-Makers)

Homer is new this morning, but nothing is so old as yesterday's newspaper.
- Charles Pe'guy

All of writing is a huge lake. There are great rivers that feed the lake, like Tolstoy and Dostoyevsky, and there are mere trickles, like Jean Rhys. All that matters is feeding the lake. I don't matter. The lake matters.
- Jean Rhys

What is repellent about pornography, we are always told, is that it depicts sex unconnected from love. And what is repellent about celebrity is that it often represents fame unconnected to achievement.
- Richard Cohen, Washington Post (16 February 2005)

[Head of the U. S. Patent Office, in a letter to President McKinley recommending that the department be abolished:]
Today, in 1899, everything that can be invented has been invented.
- Charles Duell

Creativity is the sudden cessation of stupidity.
- Edwin Land

There is no real creating without hard work. That which you call invention--that is to say, a thought, an idea--is simply an inspiration for which I am not responsible, which is no merit of mine. It is a present, a gift, which I even ought to despise until I have made it my own by dint of hard work. And there need be no hurry about that, either. It is like the seed of corn: it germinates unconsciously and in spite of ourselves.
- Johannes Brahms

We have a blind date with Destiny. And it looks like she's ordered the lobster.
- The Shoveler, Mystery Men

[In a note found after his death by his apprentice:]
Draw, Antonio. Draw, Antonio. Draw, and do not waste time.
- Michaelangelo

[To a reporter at her door the day she won her second Pulitzer Prize:]
I can't talk about that now. I'm in the middle of a sentence.
- Anne Tyler



Wax Hands

Wax Hands
Taipei, Taiwan
September 2005



Bitan Beckons


Bitan Waterfront, Sindian

Over this summer I moved to Sindian to a spot near the Bitan waterfront. It's certainly a picturesque place. My camera and I have a lot of exploring to do.

green destiny

Green Destiny
Bitan Waterfront, Sindian
Taipei, Taiwan


Voices: Conducting

To conduct means to make manifest--without flaws--that which one has perfectly heard within oneself.
- Hermann Scherchen

The job on the podium is a difficult one because the conductor of an orchestra . . . is actually the embodiment of the composition.
- Robert Schumann

What we call 'conducting technique' is really the art of the zigzag. You're tracing a long, single line that corresponds to the movement in time of the entire piece. But for reasons of space we keep folding this line back on itself.
- Apo Hsu

The economical utilization of time is one of the most imperative requisites of the conductor's skill.
- Hector Berlioz

One of the problems with doing the music of living people is that the conductor doesn't get to play God.
- John Corigliano, NewMusicBox (February 2005 )

The real task of a conductor, in my opinion, is to make himself ostensibly quasi-useless.
- Franz Liszt

One cannot be humble enough before such a privilege of getting glory and acclaim, not only from using someone else's emotions, but also from having someone else express them for you.
- Dimitri Mitropoulos

I am not as humble as people say I am. One cannot be humble and be a conductor.
- Bernard Haitink

The city of Chicago should erect a statue to me.
- Sir Georg Solti

There is no performance of genius possible without temperament.
- Felix Weingartner

It is obvious that when seated the conductor loses some of his power and cannot give free rein to his personality (if he has any).
- Hector Berlioz

In my view it is an absolute necessity to combine God-given talent with hard-earned technical expertise . . . Learn to use the baton. It can and should be an extension of your mind and heart.
- Jonathan Sternberg

There are many composers who unknowingly ruin their best scores because they fancy themselves to be great conductors.
- Hector Berlioz

A tantrum doesn't make you Toscanini.
- Alton Thompson

Even the marvelous talents of the Boston players could not turn Mr. Ozawa's Mahler into a deeply spiritual experience, but, goodness knows, they tried.
- Bernard Holland, New York Times (30 June 2002)

Don't try to prove anything. The worst conductors are those who mount the podium to prove they're good conductors. Wait--forget that. The worst conductors are those trying to prove they aren't bad conductors.
- Frederik Prausnitz

I've never conducted anything more complicated than a yard sale.
- Harry Hewitt

Well, the conductor's job is not really that much different from a prostitute's. It consists of performing to make others happy, no matter how you feel yourself, and then passing the hat.
- Dimitri Mitropoulos



Sky Big, Chicken Little

One of many things I love about living in Asia is the escape it offers from the myth that my art form is in some kind of peril. Kids take piano lessons and go with their friends to concerts and everyone has a good time. People leave it at that. Kids do the same in the US and UK, but the myth that classical music is 'dying' holds a strange but consistent fascination in these societies.

Empirical evidence does not support this. The symphony orchestra has been called a 'dinosaur' for at least fifty years now. In the 1960s conductor Georg Solti had to contend with predictions that the concert audience for his repertory would be pushing up daisies in toto by 1990. The prediction went bust, but people keep making it. It's like so many doomsdays. People keep saying they will live to see happen even though no one quite--seems--to--get there.

The expectation comes not from observing a reality but affirming a creed. But where does the creed come from?

Here are a few theories.

1. Channeling Harold Hill

The doomsayer wants you to believe a crisis exists so you will buy the product they are about to sell you. It's amazing how often the doom scenario is followed by a proposal for a remedy that involves the doomsayer's own product.

'You are losing your audience. Your entire art form will be dead in another generation. Fortunately, I have just the remedy. Hire me to come play my new concerto for Coke bottles. It's the fresh sound everyone has been waiting for. You'll laugh, you'll cry...'

2. By the way, your favorite music went extinct yesterday

The doomsayer has a column or a book to sell. Giving it an apocalyptic title like Who Killed Classical Music? will goad people who love classic music to discuss the book, buy the book, and get agitated. They will write letters to the editor contesting ideas in the book--and thus giving it free publicity.

When in 30 years classic music is still going strong, the book will naturally look a bit dated. But no matter. By then the author will be comfortably retired.

What's interesting about this phenomenon is that a substantial audience for classic music has to exist in order for the book to get attention. The fact that its premise causes an uproar is testimony to the continued relevance of, and passion for, classic music.

No one writes and sells books called Who Killed Crwth Music? Why not? Because the music really was killed.

3. It May Be Out but I'm Still In

The doomsayer is having trouble getting gigs. Rather than admitting one is having trouble, one can think the industry is having trouble. This way, the out-of-work musician still gets to be part of the industry. It's an industry with no future, but at least the musician is part of it.

4. I'll Get You, My Pretty, and Your Little E-flat Clarinet, Too

The doomsayer is having trouble getting gigs. Rather than admit that the music profession is a popular one that attracts a lot of talented people, and that this can make the going tough, one can console oneself with thoughts that all those talented people zooming past in the fast lane will hit a brick wall just around the next curve.

5. Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow?

The doomsayer wants immortality--if not for herself, at least for her music. An audience of younger people makes them feel more immortal than an audience of older people.

The audience for classical music has always skewed older and the audience for popular music has always skewed younger.

6. Faure the Fall Guy

Record company execs find it easier to say 'classical music is dying' because they like the story better than 'quality classical label bought by a bunch of pop-heads who mismanaged their assets until sales tanked.'

7. Dot Records Says It, I Believe It, That Settles It

Chuck Berry was singing 'Roll Over, Beethoven' before the Big Mac had been invented. Many people who were kids then didn't know any better than to take him literally. They are big kids now who still think of rock music and related commercial products as much more revolutionary than they really are. (Pop music is creatively far more conservative than classical.) Beethoven is still kicking, but they overlook this because they really did believe what they were told.

8. Dion Envy

The doomsayer sees attention and money being lavished on musical products in the commercial world that are often distressingly mediocre. The doomsayer wants a piece of the pie. Why struggle to make the best art you can make for a modest fee when inventing a marketable if mediocre product can put you in Bel Air? The problem is how to justify this cash grab to one's colleagues. One answer is to present going where the numbers are as a virtue in itself.

Which theory of doomsaying strikes me as the most credible? All of them. It depends on the doomsayer doing the talking.

Here's my prediction. Fifty years from now, people will still love the sound of a great orchestra. They will be playing Mozart. Some will write their own symphonies.




For colleagues who disapprove of 'music that has to be explained.'

Well, either you are closing your eyes
to a situation you do not wish to acknowledge
or you are not aware of the caliber of disaster
indicated by the presence of
composer talks in your concert hall.

We-e-e-e-ell, ya got trouble, my friends.
Trouble right here in Music City.

Certainly I'm a classics fan
I'm always mighty proud to say--I'm always
mighty proud to say it.
I consider the hours I spend
with Pachelbel's Canon golden.
Helps me cultivate form sense
and a cool mind and a keen ear.
And did you ever try to give an ironclad leave to yourself
from a chat about three or four Seasons?

But just as I say it takes tolerance, wit, and maturity
to banter a bit about bowings, I say that any boob
can grab a mike and talk about pitch sets.
And I call that 'Snob'--
the first big step on the road
to the depths of degrada--I say first
a little Tippett from a teaspoon, then Babbitt from a bottle!

And the next thing you know your kid is playin
Tan Dun in a dark black suit
and listenin to some big outatown jasper, hearing tell about
a serial approach to rhythms--
not some wholesome Ars Nova motet, mind you,
but one where they print stems right next to the notes!
Would you like to think of some stuck-up artsy boy
babblin bout retrograde themes?
Makes your blood boil! Well, I should say.

Now friends, let me tell ya what I mean.
Ya got 2 3 4 5 6 7 pitches in C Major--
intervals that mark the difference
between a craftsman and a Crumb
with a capital C and that rhymes with B
and that stands for brains.

Ya got trouble, folks!
Right here in Music City!
Trouble with a capital T
and that rhymes with B
and that stands for brains!
Ya surely got trouble!
Gotta teach the young ones music entertains!

And all week long
your Music City youth'll be fritterin away,
I say your young ones'll be fritterin!
Fritterin away their rock time, rap time,
hop time, too!
Stack the tones in the cluster--
never mind gettin blue jeans ripped
or their midriffs bared
or the drum sets pounded!
Never mind writin anything marketable
til the DJs are caught
with no danceable tunes on a Saturday night

and that's trouble.
Yeah, ya got lots and lotsa trouble.
I'm thinkin of the kids with the metronomes
reed-shavin young ones
peekin in the concert hall windows after school--
Ya got trouble, folks!
Right here in Music City!
Trouble with a capital T
and that rhymes with B
and that stands for brains!

(CHORUS: Trouble! Trouble, trouble, trouble... )

Now I know all you folks are the right kind of parents.
I'm going to be perfectly frank.
Would you like to know what kind of conversation goes on
while they're loafin around that hall?
They're talkin bout tritones, talkin octatonics,
sharin microtones on MP3s!
And all the time bra-a-a-aggin how they're gonna hide
their telltale files under 'U2' on drive D!
They're loggin into iTunes, loadin Takemitsu
like the egghead men and their Ivy League women
with that shameless music
that'll grab your son, your daughter,
to the arms of a decadent classical elitist Mass Hysteria!
Friends, an overworked mind is the Devil's playground--

Right here in Music City!
Trouble with a capital T
and that rhymes with B
and that stands for brains!
We've surely got trouble! Right here!
'Material Girl' is a song no one explains!

Mothers of Music City!
Heed the warning before it's too late!
Watch for the telltale signs of corruption!
The minute your daughter leaves the house
does she retune her violin?
Is there a Gubaidulina bookmark buried in the browser?
A Chen Yi CD hidden in the disk drive?
Are certain wo-o-o-o-ords creeping into her conversation?
Wo-o-o-o-o-ords like... 'postminimal'?
(Trouble! Trouble! Trouble! Trouble!)
Aha! and 'So's your old Messiaen!'
(Trouble! Trouble! Trouble!)
Well, folks--

Ya got Trouble!
Right here in Music City!
Trouble with a capital T
and that rhymes with B
and that stands for brains!
We've surely got trouble! Right here!
Remember Broadway, Old Blue Eyes and Harry James!

Oh, we've got trouble!
We got lots and lotsa trouble!
That sound with the twelve chromatic tones is acid rain!
(Acid rain!)
Oh yes, we've got trouble, trouble, trouble!
(Oh yes, we've got trouble here,
we're in great big trouble!)
With a T (With a capital T!)
and that rhymes with B
(That rhymes with B!)
and that stands for brains!
(That stands for brains!)

Alton Thompson (with apologies to Meredith Willson)



Progress Report

The succesful premiere of S K Tseng's Psalm Lu-O at National Concert Hall is now a fait accompli. Congratulations to Apo Hsu for pulling together a very demanding premiere.

The NTNU ShiDa Senior Women's Chorus is preparing for its spring concert. Incoming ShiDa students are being auditioned and outgoing students will soon be performing recitals and juries. My English-language students are in the midst of midterms. Meanwhile, their teacher faces the ongoing task of learning Mandarin.

Oy veh. (<--not Mandarin)

Through it all I'm hearing some truly remarkable music. Helmuth Rilling came to town to conduct a powerful performance of the Brahms German Requiem. Last night I attended the most enchanting Baroque recital I can recall. I've heard some compelling new compositions performed by ensembles large and small.

And I got something to savor from the old New World: the Baltimore Orioles sweep of the Yankees. Yes!



Useful Vocabulary

stupidize \ ˈstü-pəd-ˌīz
stupidized; stupidizing
(transitive verb)
: to arrange objects, activities, or processes in a stupid way.

stupidization \ˈstü-pəd-ə-ˈzā-shən\ (noun)
stupidizer (noun)
stupidise (British usage)

Cover of a 'Gramophone'

Cover of a Gramophone
by Alton Thompson

(Sung to the tune of 'Cover of the
Rolling Stone' by any combination of divas, maestri, castrati, three tenors, and bassi profundi.)

We're all classical musicians
who paid big tuitions
and did gigs in some coffee shop.
Now we play masterworks
like The Song of the Earth
for thirty thousand dollars a pop.
Now this is all designed
to sound sublime,
but a sublime we've never known
is the 'sublime' that'll hitcha
when you get your picture
on the cover of a Gramophone!

Gram-o-phone . . .
Wanna see my picture on the cover
'phone . . .
Wanna brag to my significant other
'phone . . .
I wanna see my smilin face
on the cover of a Gramophone!

Had a teacher high-rated
with a name hyphenated
who now irons out my tie and tails.
(chick) Now my first music theory instructor
manicures my fingernails.
(tutti) We're off to Montreal
to fill a concert hall
but one trip we've never flown
is the trip that'll getcha
when you get your picture
on the cover of a Gramophone!

Gram-o-phone . . .
What? Another Simon Rattle?
'phone . . .
A Kent Nagano and a Kathleen Battle!
'phone . . .
Wanna see my smilin face
on the cover of a Gramophone!

We get our beta blockers
from our bobo doctors
who prescribe it by the jar.
Got us a genuine New York agent
pourin our Pinot Noir.
We're takin all kinda pills
to make those onstage thrills
but one thrill we've never known
is the thrill that'll hitcha
when you get your picture
on the cover of a Gramophone!

Gram-o-phone . . .
What? Mitsuko Uchida?!
'phone . . .
Another Manny Ax and Yo-Yo Ma!
'phone . . .
When will they put my smilin face
on the cover of a Gramophone?

We got us world renownment
and a national endowment
grantin us dough to be spent.
Got us a genuine musicologist
who show us how to ornament.
Now all this goes
to earn us standin Os
but the 'O' we've never known
is the 'O' that'll hitcha
when you get your picture
on the cover of a Gramophone!

Gram-o-phone . . .
Another interview with Hilary Hahn?
'phone . . .
Another fond look back at Herbie Karajan!
'phone . . .
They oughtta put my smilin face
on the cover of a Gramophone!

Gram-o-phone . . .
Another closeup shot of Bryn Terfel?
'phone . . .
Another archive shot of Alma Mahler Werfel!
'phone . . .
It's time they put my smilin face
on the cover of a Gramophone!

Gram-o-phone . . .
Here's Anne-Sophie and Yvgeny Kissin!
'phone . . .
I say–these Brits just don't know what they're missin!
'phone . . .
They oughtta put my smilin face
on the cover of a Gramophone!

(Repeat ad infinitum a la 'Neptune' from The Planets, and fade.)


Gramophone is a registered trademark of Gramophone Publications Limited, UK. All rights reserved.

'Cover of the Rolling Stone' by Shel Silverstein. ©1972, Evil Eye Music, Inc. New York. Recording by Dr. Hook and the Medicine Show for Columbia Records, New York. All rights reserved.


326 Peace March

Today the streets of Taipei have been jammed with hundreds of thousands of Taiwan's citizens carrying banners, chanting, and singing songs. The event: the 3-26 Peace March in which over a million people protested a law passed in China two weeks ago that authorized 'non-peaceful' actions to annex Taiwan.

Buttons, flags, and shirts displayed characters reading Democracy. Peace. Protection for Taiwan. The multi-coloured leaves on the olive branch represent the democratic island's multiple political parties.

China's citizens received no news from their government about this event.


Panorama images by Walker Young
Taiwan 326 Flickr Photo Pool
Round up of press coverage by New Taiwan


Good Year for Beethoven

Whether we're taking our first heady sip of Beethoven's music or imbibing a glass with every meal, music lovers can't help wanting to taste what more he has for us in the cellar.

BBC Radio 3 is now planning an event we can all savor.

From 9am on Sunday 5 June to midnight on Friday 10 June, BBC Radio 3 will broadcast every single note of Ludwig van Beethoven. Every symphony, every quartet, every sonata ... and plenty of Beethoven surprises too.

Sir Roger Norrington, Alfred Brendel, Peter Cropper and John Suchet will be your guides through the music that's closest to them. And John Hurt will be taking us inside Beethoven's mind, reading from his fascinating letters. . . .

Visit this website before and during the week for comprehensive background information and to take part in discussions and competitions. And you'll be able to listen to the Beethoven you want to hear, when you want to hear it, on the BBC Radio Player.

Get ready to pop the corks on June 5.


Guggenheim East

Will we see a Guggenheim museum in Asia?

Discussions had been going on for two years here between the Guggenheim and the city of Taichung in Taiwan to build just that. Taichung boasts fine restaurants and night clubs, balmy weather, wide streets, and popular shopping centers. Its leisure offerings, though, have been more of the Atlantic City variety than the Manhattan kind. Jason Hu, the city's mayor, has been eager to establish a different tone and polish the city's image. The possibility of adding a Guggenheim museum to the city's cultural offerings gave his plans a big boost.

Negotiations came to naught, though, when city officials remained concerned that the museum represented a crippling long-term financial liability. Government officials in Taiwan still hope to open a world-class arts museum in Taichung regardless of the loss of the Guggenheim.

The museum, for its part, remains committed to the idea of international expansion.In an article for Bloomberg, William Pesek Jr discusses how the idea of building an Asian outpost of the Guggenheim is gaining traction in Hong Kong and other cities. Skepticism remains, though, about whether the recent economic benefits brought by a museum in Bilbao, Spain, can be repeated. A vibrant arts scene does bring economic benefits to a city, Pesek notes. But the benefits of an art museum do not lend themselves to cost-benefit predictions of the short-term, number-crunching sort you might use when considering a new office tower.

It will be interesting to see how things develop. At the end of last year the Guggenheim's chairman and chief benefactor resigned in protest over the museum's plans to become an international brand. Already it appears that adding a Guggenheim to a city's skyline may not be the upscale gesture it once was. Eyebrows are raising now over reports that Singapore hopes to combine a Guggenheim museum with a casino.


Call to the world

China's authoritarian government approved a law on Monday that authorized 'non-peaceful' actions against Taiwan if the island continues minding its own business outside of Beijing's control.

Here is the six-point response made yesterday by Taiwan's democratically elected president. And here is the official call to the world made by Taiwan's Mainland Affairs Council. (In reading the documents please note the difference between People's Republic of China, the official name of Communist China, and Republic of China, the official, older name of the government in Taiwan.

China's talk of 'secession' obscures an important fact: Taiwan has never belonged to the PRC. Taiwan has been a self-governing society the entire time the PRC has existed. It has had its own constitution, currency, public institutions, national emblems, and body of law. Since when does a state 'secede' from a nation it was never part of?

The people of Taiwan, like citizens in any democracy, assume that decisions about their future are theirs to make. The free society they have built here testifies to their right to make these decisions. It is time for the people of the world to respect that right.


Birth of Hope

On this date a few decades ago the world became a richer place.

Hope in Philadelphia

Here's to Hope: partner, friend, and the purest artist I ever met.

Shalom, dodi.


Brazen China

This week China's leaders are pushing a new domestic law intended to legitimize their ambition to annex a certain self-governing democracy nearby. The Washington Post calls the 'anti-secession' move what it is:
President Hu Jintao has now made clear that Beijing's policy of openly threatening Taiwan with a war of aggression remains intact.... Mr. Hu's answer [to Taiwan's good will] is to mandate, by law, that peaceful democratic political activity on Taiwan trigger invasion by China.
The Post editorial is getting plenty of attention here in Taiwan. I first learned of it from some local TV commentators on a morning show. They especially liked the way the piece named some of Beijing's enablers:
France and Germany--fierce opponents of military force when used by the United States against a vicious dictator--remain eager to sell weapons systems to a regime that has formally committed itself to aggression against a democracy. Rather than joining with the United States to help keep the peace in Asia, they would cater to the country that promises to break it.
Many Taiwanese have wanted to see the world taking more notice.

Wonder what readers inside China think of the Post piece? Wonder no more. They can't see it.

The Great Firewall of China--a massive system of electronic censorship--blocks access inside China to thousands of web sites that discuss Taiwan, Tibet, Tiananmen Square, Falun Gong, recent mass protests, and any other subject the regime finds unflattering. Expat colleagues of mine who travel to China report that, once inside the country, they can't access their own blogs. Lack of access may be just as well for the health of China's citizens, whose activities on the web are tracked and who are subject to arrest if they view disapproved material.

Such is life inside the 'people's republic' where only the trade is free (on a good day). No one should find it bewildering that Taiwan's citizens would be loathe to sign up.

Bravo, Post.


Wigmore Hall Live

An earlier post mentioned the growing trend of orchestras producing their own recordings. Concert halls have now joined the trend. Gramophone magazine reports plans by Wigmore Hall to start a new record label. The label, Wigmore Hall Live, will issue at least a dozen disks in its first year.


ShiDa Duties

This week I begin working with the Senior Women's Choir at ShiDa (Taiwan Normal University). We have two big events coming up: next month's world premiere of Psalm Lu-O, a choral-orchestral work by S. K. Tzeng, and our own spring concert a few weeks after that. Professor Tzeng's piece will be performed by the combined choirs of the university joined with the University Symphony conducted by Apo Hsu.

ShiDa, Taiwan's leading music school, claims a number of talented and well-trained students. The Senior Women's Choir routinely performs repertoire in at least eight languages: Mandarin Chinese, Taiwanese, Japanese, Latin, English, French, German, and Italian. All the singers have engaged in serious music studies from an an early age.

For the choir this is always a demanding time of year. Many of the women are coming back from auditions in Europe and America. All are planning to give recitals in June. Awaiting us between those events is our premiere and our spring concert. It promises to be an adventure. I'm looking forward to it.


Changes in Platitudes

If ever a genre of decor was ripe for satire, it's the office motivational poster. You've seen it: that overpriced piece of kitsch execs like to buy instead of art that really humanizes a work space. The standard formula calls for photos of animals and athletes captioned with banal proverbs to inspire the company's worker bees to produce more honey.

To the rescue: Demotivators from Despair.com!

Get to Work

Thanks to my brother for thinking I'd enjoy these. You got that right, Bro. And the 'Success' poster will always remind me of you.


Music of the Spheres

Cassini is sending back some remarkable images of Saturn and its moons. The rings never looked more sublime. And who knew about the blue?

Saturn rings with Mimas

Mimas with rings (Space Daily)


An Equal Music

Music can allow us to rediscover what is in deep inside of ourselves, free from the precision of language and the barrage of rhetoric, free from easy answers to impossible questions.

Aaron Jay Kernis

Everyone can relate to the person of talent who has to play second fiddle. Michael Holme, the protagonist of Vikram Seth's An Equal Music, does exactly that as a member of a string quartet in London. The spicy mix of personalities in his quartet represents just one aspect of the larger and even more complex world of performers, agents, critics, impresarios, patrons, concertgoers, and mentors in which Michael operates. Seth's novel convincingly portrays the musician's ongoing sense of wonder that out of this dynamic mass of elements—clashing egos, diverse priorities, and potential disasters at every turn—an alchemy takes place that permits transcendant music to be born.

Seth's greatest achievement in this novel is the way he enables the reader to hear the music. No one who has never tried it can imagine the impossibility of putting musical experience into words. If the writer tries to do it through a musician's jargon—the kind of shoptalk that depends on both parties already sharing a mental image of how, say, a 'Neapolitan' chord sounds—the description remains flat on the page for most readers. It conjures no sounds and the picture remains mute. If the writer uses metaphors there is the danger that the images will take on a life of their own and become conceits that leave the sound of the actual music behind. In finding the balance there remains the matter of versimilitiude. Readers want not only to hear the music but to hear the way real musicians talk to each other. An Equal Music finds Seth pulling off the highwire act on page after page with seemingly virtuosic ease. It's no mere flourish. The power of the novel depends on this: our experience of the way this story's memorable and vividly realized characters inhabit a world given meaning and energy by sound. The reader has to experience along with the characters how much it matters that an individual string is retuned, that a recital program is put in a particular order, and that a performer is able to buy the right instrument rather than an almost right one. That done, the reader is a better position to appreciate what it might mean to someone whose life is lived in this world if that person loses the ability to hear anything.

At the heart of this tale is a troubled love story involving Michael and Julia, a pianist. The two share a passion for beauty in all its forms that bonds them to each other despite their relationship's troubled beginning and compromised rebirth.

Musicians will find in this novel a convincing portrayal of the world they inhabit. Others will enjoy the authenticity of this look behind the curtains, courtesy of a writer of rare and sure perception.

Random House provides excerpts of the novel online together with an engaging interview with the author. The book can be ordered in paperback or hardcover from Amazon. And for those ready to hear the actual music there is, happily, an audio recording. Enjoy.


John Corigliano

John Corigliano advises composers to learn to stand on a stage during a concert and speak to the audience. 'The minute you say three words, whatever they are, and you're friendly and warm to them, they're so on your side. They so want to love this piece.... All of a sudden, they're thinking of you as a human being in their society who is writing music that could speak to them.'

This is just one of many practical suggestions Corigliano offers his colleagues in 'Overthrowing Composer-Gods and Performer-Gods' in the February 2005 edition of NewMusicBox, the online magazine of the American Music Center.

John Corigliano, a dominating figure in American music today, is probably most familiar to the public as the composer of the music for Francois Girard's The Red Violin, performed by Joshua Bell and the London Philharmonia Orchestra under Esa-Pekka Salonen, and The Ghosts of Versailles, an opera commissioned by the Met.

Composers, performers, and arts administrators all take above-the-belt hits in the frank and invigorating discussion. About the paucity of recordings by American orchestras Corigliano doesn't mince words. 'The unions are screwing up everything,' he says. 'We can't pay those recording fees and put out a record of the most popular work and sell enough to make money, therefore it's dead. What has to happen is they have to understand that it's profit sharing. Put out a record and let the players get a percentage of the sales. If it does well, they'll do well. If it doesn't do well, they won't do so well. But they'll be aware that this is something we're all in together.'

Corigliano characteristically sees the situation for American music improving with a greater creativity and sense of community from all concerned, especially composers. 'I think a composer who has gotten to a certain stage in his life should judge competitions, should donate his time to looking at young people's music and encouraging people.... You can write any kind of music in this country and find an audience. There's always a place for you.'


Orchestra labels

The new century has given rise to a number of orchestras creating their own record labels. Orchestras find this allows them to circumvent the ills of the struggling commercial industry and still reach their audiences. Orchestras are in the habit, after all, of giving live concerts. With a greater investment of expertise and resources in their recording activities orchestras find they can produce viable recordings that circumvent the ills of the struggling commercial industry.

The trend has been led by Sir Colin Davis and the London Symphony Orchestra. The orchestra possessed recording resources of its own and benefited from the presence of reording veterans as players. Its label, LSO Live, scored a with its recording of Berlioz Les Troyens with Sir Colin Davis. The expanding catalog offers LSO performances with Davis of major Berlioz works, Holst's The Planets, Verdi's Falstaff, and symphonies by Dvorak, Elgar, and Sibelius. The new cycle of Brahms symphonies with Bernard Haitink is good news for those of us interested in the work of this conductor of stature at the peak of his career.

Some links to orchestra-sponsored labels:

RCO Live (Royal Concertgebouworchestra, Amsterdam)
RLPO Live (Royal Liverpool Philharmonic)
The Halle Orchestra UK
LSO Live (London Symphony Orchestra)
Monteverdi Productions (English Baroque Soloists)
Chicago Symphony Orchestra
New York Philharmonic Orchestra
San Francisco Symphony Orchestra

Thanks to my colleagues at Orchestralist, especially Martin Anderson and Lawrence Yates, for calling my attention to some of these.

Know of more? Please post a comment and I'll add the links.


Change in Classic Music? Bring It On

Today the field of classic music, like every other others, faces change. Some of our colleagues talk of desperation. The situation calls instead for resourcefulness, imagination, and creativity. Fortunately, artists possess these traits in abundance. The creative have always been well-equipped to face history's profound shifts.

We trust our music because we can. Beauty acquires its share of admirers. We know this because we have seen it happen. New listeners are drawn to this music as we were drawn to it ourselves. All the music needs (as a 17-year-old violinist recently reminded us) is a chance to be heard. New and exciting means of ensuring that chance are invented daily.

Critics learned a long time ago how to generate a little extra buzz among readers by touting 'the death of' this or that. On any given day we can read that rock music has died, newspapers have died, classical music has died, movies have died, technologies have died, history has died. There's no end to the body count. But, as one wag observed, no one ever erected a statue to a critic.

The truth: no one knows the future. By definition the word refers to time that has not arrived. It is wide open.

The truth: everyone alive has something to say about what the future will be. If we want our music carried forward, we can see to it.

The last word will rest not with you or me or with those who predict doom, but with the thousands of young people around the world who, as you read, are practicing Mozart.



Naxos Web Radio

Tired of tuning your radio to a shrinking handful of 'classical' stations that play waltzes all day just to stay afloat? Don't despair. Digital broadcasting is here with more options and more variety. Check out this new arrival:

Naxos Web Radio

Naxos doesn't give you just one station of catchall 'classical.' Naxos lets you choose from among a variety of styles and genres. This is the perfect recod company to do it, too. Naxos has one of the more diverse and exciting catalogs out there.

The range of choices in digital broadcasting will only grow. As slimmer formats come into vogue you'll be able to get digital broadcasts to your cell phone, iPod, PDA, and phone-hookup PC. Soon you will find it even more feasible to start your own station. Starting a new digital music station will be as approachable a task as starting a blog is now.

I look forward to discovering many new musical gems courtesy of Naxos Web Radio. We live in exciting times. Stay tuned.


Arms of Alton Thompson

Armes de Alton Thompson

de la famille Josserand de Bourgogne

Argent, a double tressure flory Sanguine, overall a Corvus corax trian volant Proper.

For coronet a baton d’un chef d’orchestre barwise Proper.

Tournament Crest
On a tilting helm affronty Proper a wreath Sanguine and Argent for crest, with a Corvus corax rising affronty Proper, wings displayed and elevated.

Sanguine doubled with white silk.

Liberté, Beauté, Vérité, Amour

Badge primaire
Argent, optional double tressure flory rond Sanguine, overall a Corvus corax trian en arrière voided Sable perché au sommet a five-lined staff for podium.

Badge secondaire

Argent, a double tressure flory rond Sanguine, overall a plume de vol d’un Corvus corax bendwise sinister voided Sable.

1999 January 31

Blazon and Design: ©Alton Thompson
Registered: US Heraldic Registry

Achievements are property of individual armigers
and their designated heirs and assigns.


Arms of Pierre and Jeanne Josserand

The French name Josserand, like the German name Guntram, derives from a personal name 'composed of the tribal name' in the Gothic language:

Gaut Hramn = Goth Raven

Source: Dictionary of American Family Names ©2013, Oxford University Press

Left: Arms of Pierre Josserand (1802-1867)

Born in France. Resided in the Burgundy region. Married Jeanne. Daughter named Jeanne Marie born in Dijon in 1835. Emigrated to USA in 1842. Two sons, Peter (1844-1905) and Frank, were born in the New World.

Right: Arms of Jeanne Josserand (1806-1876)

Born in the Burgundy region, France. Attended a convent school likely connected with the Cistercian order. Married Pierre Josserand and adopted his surname. In 1835 gave birth to a daughter, Jeanne Marie, in Dijon. Emigrated to USA in 1835 with Pierre, daughter Jeanne Marie, and Pierre's nephew. Later gave birth to two sons, Peter (1844-1905) and Frank. 

Arms adopted on their ancestors' behalf by Josserand descendants on the 200th anniversary of Pierre Josserand's birth in 2002.



Riccardo Muti

The conductor Riccardo Muti is the subject of a feature article by Andrew Clark this week in the Financial Times. Muti has been one of my favorites for a long time: a intelligent, principled musician whose interpretations are thoroughly considered and executed. His technique is extraordinary.

Riccardo Muti 
(CSO Sounds & Stories)
Muti, now thriving in his native Italy, conducted the Philadelphia Orchestra for twelve years. In Philadelphia he made a number of recordings with the orchestra and played a leading role in securing a new concert hall. He was often distressed, though, with the consumeristic misunderstandings Americans tend to hold about art. As he describes it to Clark:
'I always felt the accent was more on entertainment than the cultural experience,' says Muti. 'When I made tours around the US, I was shocked to find reviews written on a page called 'entertainment': topless shows next to Bruckner Seven. That says it all. It says culture is something to consume, not to engage with. When I go to a concert or opera, my attitude is to go to a place where I make my mind work. But in some theatres these ladies sit and wait for an Italian singer to bring an atmosphere of pizza and tomato and sunshine. E un lavoro—music is a work of the mind. That's why I don't like programmes with a selection of arias and choruses. This has nothing to do with culture.'

(Quoted by Andrew Clark: 'Muti's Way,' Financial Times, 2005 January 21)
Muti will be conducting the Philharmonia Orchestra's 60th Anniversary Concert this week in London. In February he will conduct the Philadelphia Orchestra in a benefit concert.

More about Muti's return to Philadelphia appears in Andante Music News.

2010: Riccardo Muti has been appointed music director of the Chicago Symphony.


Eastern Winds

Brian Wise offers a wide-ranging discussion of new music for American wind ensembles in a recent edition of NewMusicBox:
A number of prominent composers are either writing or awaiting premieres of new band works, including John Corigliano (from the University of Texas), Christopher Rouse (University of Florida), Richard Danielpour (College Band Director's National Association), and Bright Sheng and Michael Daugherty (both University of Michigan). Still others are enjoying successive performances of recent works, notably David Del Tredici, Michael Torke, Augusta Read Thomas, Joseph Schwantner, and Joan Tower, among others.

Many music professionals believe that bands and wind ensembles offer composers distinct advantages over orchestras, like vast amounts of rehearsal time, the potential for multiple performances (thanks to a well-connected network of university band directors), opportunities to reach new audiences, and sometimes significant financial incentives. But there are also questions about the character and quality of new band music. Can bands inspire composers to write their most innovative, complex, or demanding work? Is the influx of "name-brand" composers helping to put the band field on the path towards mainstream acceptance?

"This is one of the most composer-friendly communities that exists," says Todd Vunderink, director of the publishing firm Peermusic Classical. "That makes sense, since the conductors at the major universities, who have large budgets, are consciously trying to build the repertoire. It's a great contrast to the orchestra world, which is much more beholden to earlier centuries."

The band world has long been dogged by an identity crisis; for every Holst Suite or Hindemith Symphony in B-flat, there are associations with parades, football halftime shows, and military services. But according to Frank Korach, a band specialist at Boosey & Hawkes, over 1,000 concert band pieces are written annually, and band programs are bigger and stronger than orchestral programs at U.S. educational institutions. "Bands are more liberal than orchestras. They'll accept more than orchestras," he says. "The college band world's audience is more open to new things and non-standard repertoire."

Taiwan is home to several professional wind ensembles. All have been formed in the last decade. British and American band music represent the staples, but one also hears new works by Taiwanese composers and attractive settings of Taiwan folk songs.

Apo Hsu

I had the good fortune to attend a concert in December by the Taipei Symphony Winds conducted by Apo Hsu. The concert featured an intoxicating variety of works that drew a young crowd of high school and college-age students. Concerts here typically run at half an hour longer than they do in North America regardless of the kind of ensemble performing. This concert attracted a youthful crowd of high school and college-age students that stayed with the program the whole way and screamed for encores at the end as they would in a rock concert. Apo Hsu obliged with three encores and shared a number of bows with principal players. It made for a festive evening and an effervescent overture to the holiday season.

Brian Wise. 'Brass Tacks', New Music Box, American Music Center. 2004 December 1.



Asian opera

China Daily reports a new effort in the PRC to document the complete repertory of traditional Chinese opera. Also known as Beijing or Peking opera, this renowned form of musical theater employs a set number of traditional stories. An alarming amount of that repertory, though, has been lost in one generation. Anyone who has seen the Chen Kaige film Farewell, My Concubine knows why: Mao's Cultural Revolution attempted to eliminate this art form and many of the artists who made it. When times changed, traditional opera returned but many of the people who made it did not. Lost with them was their accumulated knowledge of the tradition.

Today specialists at the Chinese Academy of Arts and related organizations hope to prevent further loss through documenting every aspect of the art form. One result will be a comprehensive online library of traditional Chinese opera.

Here in Taiwan the art form has enjoyed an unbroken history, thanks in large part to programs like that at the National Fu Hsing Dramatic Arts Academy. The Academy schools students in all aspects of traditional Chinese opera. The Academy's museum of traditional masks and costumes regularly attract international visitors.

A more indigenous art form, Taiwanese opera, shares some conventions with its traditional Chinese cousin as well as with Japanese theater, but it uses the Taiwanese language and relies on Taiwanese folk elements in music and story. The shows are more likely than Chinese opera to be performed outdoors. Visitors are more likely to encounter this theatrical form during summer months, particularly around the time of the Dragon Boat Festival. The styles of Taiwanese opera exist, a 'northern' and 'southern' style. The repertory for both continues to grow and expand.

All forms of Asian opera inspire modern composers and playwrights.


FSU Law needs better Hollywood PR

Hey, Florida State University College of Law. It's time you and the boys had a word with a few Hollywood film directors.

Have you seen the way they portray your graduates in movies? I've seen two, and neither provides a good role model for our impressionable, innocent young law students.

First there's McNair, the public defender played by Ned Beatty in Just Cause. He's a paunchy, wise-cracking, football-obsessed good old boy. Well, okay... we know the style enjoys some precedent in Tallahassee. But still. McNair is dodgy and acts intimidated when he meets a cerebral out-of-state law professor. But come on. As a Florida State student he surely met some professors. Some professors even came from out of state. Some professors even had cerebrums. So why the intimidation? Well, OK, I get that it's Sean Connery. Who knows what kind of laser device a former 007 might have hidden in his lapel pin? But still.

Anyway, here's McNair, defending an innocent person's life in a death-penalty case, and all he can do is stand in his office chattering about how Florida State beat Miami in the Cotton Bowl. It's a ridiculous, unwatchable scene. Everyone knows the Seminoles have never played Miami in the Cotton Bowl.

Then there's Ned Racine, the lawyer played by William Hurt in Body Heat. His whole approach is--how shall we say this?--ethically flawed. He get outmaneuvered, he gets bamboozled, and he probably shoplifts his wingtips. We don't need that.

Racine still wins hands down as a role model over McNair. He at least knows how to decorate an office (film noir rather than Bill's Bookstore). And doesn't talk in a bad Southern accent. And you have to like his idea of a contact sport. No pigskin, just Kathleen Turner.

Please tell Hollywood to put a stop to this. Our young law students deserve worthier role models, ethical exemplars, such as any one of the many real-life lawyers in the world who... who... hmm.

You know what? Never mind.



Frederik Prausnitz

Frederik Prausnitz, former professor of conducting at the Peabody Conservatory, passed away on November 12 last year. For an idea of his wide-ranging career see the obituary in The Times (UK). In addition to being a mentor of conductors he was a compelling writer. His book on conducting is one of the few I know that goes beyond teaching baton and rehearsal technique to explore ways one goes about developing a fully-formed image of a work in one's mind and memory. His book on Roger Sessions, a composer for whose music Prausnitz had a special affinity, is likely the first full-length biography of the composer ever produced.

A sampling of Prausnitz thoughts shared in seminars:

Think of all your life up to this point. You lived through many moments. Now you look back and see all of them complete in one picture. That's how musical memory works. You want an image of a work that sees the music whole.
The goal of musical training is to become an artist. Not a good student. There's a difference.  
Smile with your mouth but not your eyes.  
I keep a list of new compositions I want to conduct. I sort them into two categories: Audience Applauds and Audience Walks Out. The first kind can be put anywhere. The second kind must be played just before intermission. The audience can satisfy its urge to walk out, then it will return for the big symphony it paid for and the concert will still end with applause.
The worst conductors in the world are those trying to prove they're good conductors. No, forget that. The worst conductors in the world are those trying to prove they aren't bad conductors. 
The most challenging audience is made up of your students. 
I would much rather be a guest conductor than an orchestra builder. You go into a town and the timpanist needs to be fired? Enjoy the concert. You'll be rid of that timpanist next week. Someone else has the headache. 
My wife says I spoil the dog. Why shouldn't I spoil the dog? I'm not preparing him for grad school.   
More conductors have lost jobs because they made a mistake wearing formals than because they made a mistake in Mahler's tempos. Your board members don't know Mahler's tempos, but they know how to dress. Mind even details you know are trivial. People are watching. 
Some people mark up one score and always use that one. I can't. I get a new score every time I return to a piece. I consult the notes I made in earlier scores but often find myself arguing with them. 
You're talking to players, not instruments.   
There's no end to the repertory. Conductors have to take responsibility for everything. You can't conduct eighteenth-century concertos and twentieth-century serial pieces and sacred choral works in Hebrew, Latin and Greek and mixed-meter ballets and Renaissance dances and full-length operas in Italian, French, German, English, Russian, and Czech and electronic-acoustic theatre pieces and aleatoric works and then say 'I don't do Tchaikovsky.' 
Frederik Prausnitz has three generations of trained conductors to testify to his art. Farewell, Maestro, and thank you.



Welcome to my blog. I look forward to sharing ideas here about music and beauty and airplanes and who-knows-what. Here's wishing you many joys in the new year.

I must launch my boat...
Do you not feel a thrill in the air
as the tones of the distant song
float from the far away shore?

- Rabindranath Tagore