Monthly Archives: July 2011

Who Labeled This Keyboard Like This, and Why?

That’s what I want to know.  My nephew’s dad bought it for him used, from a music studio.  Those stickers are really hard to get off. Luckily, my nephew, who just turned 9, is brilliant and just ignores them.  But someone in this instrument’s past probably was, and may still be, very confused.







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Phoenix’s Downtown Chamber Series: An Unusual Model for Success

a view from the rear of the Great Hall at the Phoenix Art Museum

I attended the Wednesday July 27 concert of the Phoenix Downtown Chamber Series (DCS) in the Great Hall of the gorgeous Phoenix Art Museum.   The DCS, a musician-run organization founded and directed by Phoenix Symphony violist Mark Dix, has been going since 2000.  The program, except for two solo piano pieces by Granados, was of all contemporary music.  Except for two more solo piano pieces, by the Cuban composer Ernesto Lecuona (1895-1963), each piece included guitar and had been commissioned and/or premiered by Duo 46, guitarist Matt Gould and violinist Beth Ilana Schneider-Gould.  I listed all the performers (each of whom played terrifically well) in my preview post.

The DCS presents about five programs a year (if I understood correctly), at various art galleries, museums, and warehouse spaces in the downtown Phoenix area.  It’s a very interesting model: no traditional concert halls, changing venues, and the concerts are scheduled and announced one-by-one rather than a season in advance. Ticket prices are low (just $10), and there are a variety of donors (35 in the $10-99 category, 42 in the $100 and above).  Volunteers (seven listed in the program for these concerts) help with logistics, ushering, ticket sales, etc.

If someone had come to me before Wednesday night and asked, “How about we start a chamber music series where we just plan the concerts one by one and have them at different locations?”, I’d probably have been skeptical about the chances of building an audience.

Now that I think about it, though, an ensemble (or, in this case fairly large group of local musicians from whom the performers

From behind the stage, looking out over the seating area

for each concert are drawn) in a large metropolitan area can certainly build a following that is not venue-specific.  Having just spent five months in NY, the new-music groups Alarm Will Sound, the Metropolis Ensemble, and the International Contemporary Ensemble, each of which perform at a variety of locations, immediately come to mind as having done just that.

There were about 250 people, I estimated, at Wednesday evening’s concert, which was a repeat of a Saturday afternoon performance.  So the DCS certainly draws an audience.  Age range? Pretty typical, it seemed to me, the vast majority looking to be, like me, 50+.  Perhaps 10% 30 and under, a bit better than most classical concerts, but that’s a very rough estimate, and for one concert on a weeknight in what’s probably one of the more close-to-traditional spaces the DCS has played. This was their first set of concerts at the museum, the twelfth venue at which they’ve performed (by my count from that link).  The couple sitting next to me had read about the concert in the newspaper (old media still works!).

I was quite surprised when Mark Dix explained, in his remarks at the start of the second half of the concert, that the 2011-2012 season has yet to be planned, and that they have found that it works not to plan an entire season in advance, but to schedule things concert-by-concert, seeing who is available when. I’d have thought that with primarily local musicians, it would work better to get the season scheduled in advance–especially during the fall/winter/spring standard concert season.

On the other hand, I do a lot of last-minute scheduling myself for the summer concert series (the Greencastle Summer Music Festival) I organize in Greencastle.  We do twelve concerts a summer, and since we pay rather small honoraria and people tend not to have summer vacation and other plans set far in advance, it has worked for seven years to do the scheduling in late April and early May, with the concerts starting just after Memorial Day.  I’ve been thinking about starting earlier, and perhaps for some of the performers that could work, but I’ve been assuming that for most of us it wouldn’t work to pin things down too far in advance. And at DePauw, where I teach, the music faculty wasn’t enthusiastic about scheduling faculty recitals a season in advance, until the concert calendar started getting so crowded that we were forced to do so or not be able to get a date.

And many of the musicians are members of the Phoenix Symphony, and I know from my friends in the Indianapolis Symphony that the schedule can be more in flux than one would assume;  run-out concerts and special events get added during the season, so you can’t always count on a free night remaining so.

Obviously it’s working for them.  I talked briefly with Mark after the concert; his enthusiasm for performing chamber music in visually-stimulating, energetic, spaces such as art museums is contagious. He mentioned how “dead” recital halls and churches can feel, and how little classical musicians as a whole think about the visual experience of a concert.  He’s right on about that.

And it’s a musician-run, local series.  Which is great.  With the high level of the performances, I was impressed once again by how many terrific musicians there are wherever you go in the United States, just as so many of us were impressed by the high level of playing of orchestras from Toledo, Albany, Oregon, and Dallas at the Spring for Music Festival at Carnegie Hall.

Since the series presents primarily local musicians, they can pay what I assume are fairly nice fees for a gig in one’s home town. They don’t have to come up with six-figure fees to pay a big-name touring ensemble with its associated travel and hotel costs. That would require more extensive fundraising, including grants, big corporate donors/sponsors, slick program books with ads, etc.  (I talked once with the artistic director of a summer series, not too far a drive away from Greencastle, about possibly booking one or two of their groups to do a concert on my series;  each of the groups on his series expected a fee much larger than the budget for our entire summer.) To get a corporate sponsor for a program, you’d have to have that program scheduled well in advance.

But they don’t need that.  The Downtown Concert Series fulfills a very different purpose than, say, the Phoenix Chamber Music Society, which presents big-name artists like the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center and the Muir Quartet.  This is (first-rate) local musicians putting on their own concerts, and doing a great job of it.

I’m really glad I went;  it gave me a lot to think about, and possibilities to imagine.


Filed under alternative classical performance, alternative venues, Downtown Chamber Series (Phoenix), Duo46 (violin and guitar), Ensembles, Greencastle Summer Music Festival, Phoenix Chamber Music Society

Tonight: The Downtown Chamber Series in Phoenix

I’ve been having a great time in Scottsdale, Arizona, where I arrived Sunday morning to celebrate the birthdays on my (as of Sunday) nine-year-old twin niece and nephew.  They are now the proud wearers of IU (that’s Indiana University) red, and Indianapolis Colts (that’s a football team–OK, you may know that, but my sister didn’t) blue, shirts.  I didn’t get to the DePauw bookstore in time to get them apparel from my employer, so they’ll get another set of DPU black and gold togs for Christmas.

I’m leaving in about fifteen minutes to see if I can’t get into this evening’s sold-out performance of The Downtown Chamber Series in Phoenix. Rob Simonds, a former Phoenix Symphony violinist now in Indianapolis, alerted me to this series, of which he has been an integral part, and which he tells me is doing very well, attracting good audiences, and features multiple-genre programming.  He’d seen a post I’d written (on another site) about the classical/folk mashup concert on the series I organize in Greencastle and wrote me about some similar experiments in Phoenix.

Tonight’s program is at the Phoenix Art Museum.  Here’s the description from the website (which I have a hunch may disappear soon):

A program featuring guitar, violin, piano, clarinet and double bass, performing in gallery space amidst the museum’s contemporary collection. The program will present a wide palette of international styles originating from Turkey, Argentina, the Netherlands, the United States, Cuba and Spain.

Matt Gould, guitar
Beth Schneider, violin
Larry Loeber, piano
Jana Starling, clarinet
John Ebinger, double bass

Program will include:
Marcele Pavia, Amancay for clarinet and guitar (Argentina/Italy, world premiere)
Jorge Liderman, Aires de Sefarad for violin and guitar (Spanish songs by an Argentine-American composer)
Annette Kruisbrink, Five Dances for double bass and guitar (Netherlands)
Paul Richards, Cypriot Structures for piano, violin and guitar (Turkish-influenced music by an American composer)
Daniel Kessner, Trio for clarinet, violin and guitar (American, world premiere)
Piano works by Granados (Spain) and Lecuona (Cuba)

For more information on Matt Gould and Beth Schneider, please visit
You can hear a brief interview with Matt and Beth on KBAQ 89.5 FM

I, of course, am especially interested to take a look at the age range of the audience.  My sense is I can expect to see more people under 40 than at a typical chamber music concert.  (I did a brief presentation at a board meeting of an Indiana classical-music organization recently, and was told that they think last season 3%–yes, just three percent–of last year’s audience was under 40.)

I might suggest that they’d do well to have some video of tonight’s performers on the website–but it’s sold out.  So if it ain’t broke . . .

Assuming I get in, I’ll let you know tomorrow about my experience tonight.

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91 degrees at almost 5:00 PM: It’s Too Darned Hot!

I’m with Ella on this . . .


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Mom’s new watch

Maybe it’s having come back from five months in New York, a time that gave me an extended break from caring for my mother, that has her so much on my mind.

I’d been back for a short visit in late March, and taken her for a checkup with her neurologist–about an hour drive each way to Indianapolis and back from the facility in Lafayette.  When I got back to New York, one night I cried and cried.  Felt like I’d abandoned her.  Felt like a failure that I couldn’t fix things or make her happy.

When any of us (me, one of my kids, my ex-wife) visit, Mom talks almost obsessively about wanting to move in with, or near, one of us. “I want to be with the family.  I want to be with the Edbergs.”

Well, who wouldn’t rather live with family than in an assisted living facility?  (OK, I know most college-aged people are happy to be living in the assisted-living facilities that are college residences and dining halls, rather than with their parents. But at a certain point you’d rather live with family than alone.)

“We don’t live together, Mom,” I explain.  “Allison lives in once city, I live over an hour away, Pete is moving to China, and Kullan lives in New York.  When there are a bunch of us together, like today, it’s a special occasion.”

She doesn’t understand.  We try different things.  Deflect and change the subject.  Lie and say we’re looking at places.  Say her piano won’t fit in any of our houses (true).  What we don’t do is say is, “Mom, you have Alzheimer’s Disease and can’t take of yourself and you can’t live with us.”  If she had a broken leg, she’d understand.  Telling her her memory doesn’t work and she might wander off and we can’t afford to have someone be with her all day and any of us would go crazy ourselves living with her . . . I can’t do that, and she wouldn’t believe it anyway.

We went to dinner Saturday night, then to Wal-Mart to get her a few things.  The young women at the jewelery counter couldn’t get the back of Mom’s Timex off to change the battery, so we bought a new watch.  Six or seven minutes later, in the car, I asked her about the watch.  “It’s lovely,” she said.  “It’s seven-twoey,” she announced.  The little hand on the seven, the big hand on the two–what the rest of us would call 7:10 or ten after seven.

“How long have you had that watch?” I asked her.

I don’t like testing her, playing with her, but I was really curious.  She’d been so proud of the watch now in my pocket, to take to a jeweler to fix.  And then quite excited about this new one that she picked out.

“Oh,” she replied without having to think about it, “since I was about twelve.  I’ve had it my whole life!”

Inside, part of me wants to scream.  “MOM, WE JUST BOUGHT THAT FUCKING WATCH FIVE MINUTES AGO!”

Laugh? Cry? I just smiled and said, “Oh, I didn’t know that.”

It’s hard, but I’m used to it now, and pretty accepting.  Something inside me feels like it dies a little, when these things happen, but it doesn’t hurt so much I can’t be around it.

I love her.  I like being with her.

And then, “When do you think I can move near Allison?  I just need my clothes, my piano, and my music and I’m all ready to go!”

“Well, Mom, your piano won’t fit in Allison’s house.”

“Well, then just a little place near her.”

“Well, there aren’t any places for sale near Allison.  But we’ll keep looking.”

“I want to live with all the Edbergs!”

“I understand Mom, but we don’t live together. I live in another city. Not near Allison. Over an hour away.  And Pete’s moving to China. . . .”

And we go around in that circle every five minutes, sometimes more often.

I went to hear a late show at a bar that night, and stayed over at Allison and her boyfriend’s house.

The next morning, I wanted to go visit Mom again. But I just couldn’t take another session of dealing with her incessant pleas to move. So I went home.  And got nothing done.

I want to spend time with her, and I don’t.  I can only last so long, go only so often.  I go as often as I can take it.  Does something shut down in me when I don’t? Does something shut down in me when I do?

So I’m writing about it.  I’m seeing a therapist.  I’ll find a support group.

I used to look forward to being an adult.  To not having my parents controlling me.

Ha!  The joke is on me.

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Filed under and everything, Dealing with dementia, family life, fatigue

My mother, so present in her absence, at last night’s concert

“I’m not quite sure how to follow that!”  The audience laughed.

Nariaki Sugiura had just finished a virtuoso performance of Alan Jay Kernis’s Superstar Etude No. 1, a rock/classical mashup of a piece, which included Nariaki leaning over and using his (shoeless) left foot on the keyboard.  Very theatrical and really energizing.  Talk about pianistic athleticism.

The concert began with a solo set by Nariaki.  He’d also played a movement of a Haydn sonata and two Cowell pieces.  And then this bombastic entertainment, which the audience loved.

So as a kind of transition, I told a couple of stories.  How my mother and Laura Sias, the strings teacher at Parker Elementary School in Royal Oak, Michigan, conspired to get me started on cello.  How I agreed, with my own eleven-year-old silent conspiracy, to play, knowing that if I refused my mother would be on my case for not trying.  If I played for a few months, however, I could then say I didn’t like it, and my mother would be off my back about playing an instrument.

The joke was on me, though.  I liked the cello and kept playing.

(Despite several attempts to quit, when I’ve been frustrated with my playing, or with myirregular practice habits, with my performances, with the anxiety attacks before (and occasionally during) performances, with the depression and self-recrimination that has sometimes followed performances . . . I always came back.  At some point, I quit quitting.)

Anyway, here I was, almost 43 years later, playing a concert.  About to perform the Schumann Five Pieces in Folk Style for the first time. As I wrote about yesterday, as a boy I used to fall asleep listening to the Pablo Casals recording of them.

Nariaki and I started playing.  And my mother was suddenly very present for me.  A pianist, she was my first accompanist, and we performed together for years.  A wonderful mentor and colleague as I became an adult and a college music professor myself.  We used to love shop talk.

Now, parts of her brain experiencing the effects of Alzheimer’s Disease and vascular dementia, she’s in a (lovely) memory-care facility.

Her grandson, my son, visited her Tuesday.  At first she started to introduce him to others as her husband, then when Pete interrupted to say he wasn’t her husband, she said he was her son. He tried to explain he was her grandson, but she ignored it.  “She did not want to be corrected twice,” he told me.  “Her social sense is still intact.”

Howard Hanson (a major 20th-century composer who was the head of the Eastman School of Music for years) visited the University of Tampa when she taught there, and she was the piano soloist on a concert he conducted.  The poster is on a wall of her room.

Now she conflates him with whatever composer she is playing.  So she told Pete about Beethoven visiting her in Florida and the concerts they did together.

I hadn’t played in Greencastle since last summer (I was on sabbatical for the 2010-2011 academic year/concert season).  My parents moved to Greencastle about four years ago.  I’d taken Mom to every concert I’d played here since–and she’d played a few herself.  So this was the first time I’d sat in that church with my cello and not had her there.

And I was playing these pieces that I used to listen to when I started playing the cello.  My 11/12 year old self was very present.  The music is so beautiful.  Memories of how much I loved a particular passage started flashing into my awareness, more strongly than when we rehearsed.

My love and gratitude for my mother, who’d gotten me playing, who’d always supported me, who’d played with me, was so strong.

She was so present for me in her absence.

Somewhere in the first movement, I started to cry.  I held it back, but I was on the brink.  Teared up, for sure.  Afraid I’d lose it.

I didn’t, though. I got through the Schumann, and the rest of the program, just fine.  Had an especially good time playing the Saint-Saëns Concerto and Piazzolla’s Le Grand Tango.  

I’ll see Mom Saturday. I’ll take my cello, the cello she and my father took out a second mortgage to buy, and we’ll play some pieces together. She can tell me about her concerts with Beethoven, or whomever.

I’ll probably go over to my ex-wife’s house and cry after that.

(There’s more to say about the experience of last night’s concert, which a friend not there asked me to write about.  When I started to write this post, I didn’t know that it would be about missing my mother. There were many other dimensions, of course–and, writing muse willing, I’ll write about them soon.)


Filed under Dealing with dementia, Eric Edberg performances, family life, Greencastle Summer Music Festival, Nariaki Sugiura

Oh! I’m playing a concert tonight

That's Nariaki. I'm the guy above!

Ha!  I have a little block (maybe more than a little) when it comes to promoting my own concerts.  So I’m just getting this up the afternoon of the show.

Tonight, pianist Nariaki Sugiura and I play a recital as part of the Greencastle Summer Music Festival, which I started about seven years ago and continue to (barely) organize.  There have been stories in the Banner-Graphic (the Greencastle, Indiana paper) and on the DePauw site.

It will probably be Nariaki’s last concert in Greencastle for quite a while.  He starts a new faculty position at the University of North Dakota next month. He’s a fabulous young pianist, who just finished (or is close to finishing) his DMA at Indiana University.  He was the accompanist for Janos Starker’s cello studio for several years, so he knows the cello repertoire inside out.

He’s a delightfully flexible collaborator, too.  Sometimes when a pianist has worked a lot with a famous artist or teacher, he or she will want everyone to play the way the great one did/taught:  “Starker does X!” “Mr. Rose always made a ritard here.”  “Alisa Weilerstein plays this tempo.” So what?  We are playing, not them.

My favorite was when in my own doctoral-student days I was rehearsing the Tchaikovsky Rococo Variations with a pianist and triumphantly nailed the final variation.  I sighed, smiled, and looked up at her.

She’d been listening to a recording. “Rostropovich plays faster,” she deadpanned, in her not-yet-fluent English.

With Nariaki, though, it’s always starting fresh, and I like that.  He’s never asked me to play like Starker or anyone else.

Nariaki starts things off tonight with a solo set.  He begins with a vivacious Allegro from a Haydn piano sonata, followed by two short programmatic pieces (“Banshee” and “The Harp of Life”) by the American composer Henry Cowell (1897-1965), and then a piece by a actual living composer: Alan Jay Kernis’s Superstar Etude No. 1.

The Kernis is wild and crazy.  A hard act to follow!

But I’ll give it a try.

Together we’ll play the Five Pieces in Folk Style by Robert Schumann.  I think it’s the first time for both of us, certainly for me.  I grew up listening to these pieces as performed by Pablo Casals.  As I explain in the press release included here, the first cello record I was given included these pieces.  I’d listen to them, or the Schumann Cello Concerto on the other side, almost every night as I went to sleep. (I had an automatic turntable, which would turn itself off when a record was over, in my room.) At some point in my teens, I decided to wait until I was an adult to learn and perform them–I thought it would be nice to “save” them.  Last week, thinking about tonight’s program, I decided now is the time.

That got me thinking about other childhood pieces, and the Saint-Saëns A Minor Concerto started floating through my head.  An album with Leonard Rose playing it, along with the Lalo Concerto and the Fauré Elegy, came into possession early in my cello life as well.  I got to meet Mr. Rose in 1973 after a concert, and he autographed the album for me.  I was with another cello student and he signed it, “Hello fellow sufferers!  Greetings, Leonard Rose.”  The Saint-Saëns Concerto was one of my favorite pieces.  I haven’t performed it since 1989–it’s out of fashion to play concertos with piano accompaniment, although this was done all the time in the 19th century as well as the pre-World War II era in the 20th.  So why not?  It’s such a terrific piece, and it sounds great with piano.

We finish off with Piazzolla’s Le Grand Tango, which he composed in 1982 for Mstislav Rostropovich. They didn’t get around to performing it until 1990.  So I definitely didn’t grow up listening to it.  But I love Piazzolla, and this piece is enormously fun to play.

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Filed under Eric Edberg performances, Greencastle Summer Music Festival, Nariaki Sugiura

Toronto Symphony: 35% of Its Audience Under 35

As I’ve said before, “the question” for classical music (and its genre-melding young offspring) is how do we bring in a younger audience without compromising artistic standards? By younger, I mean under 40.  Whether or not you believe there’s a classical-music attendance crisis, it sure wouldn’t hurt to have some people with full heads of non-gray hair joining the rest of us.

Indefatigable super-publicist Gail Wein sent me news of this story about the Toronto Symphony‘s success. Through the success of the orchestra’s tsoundcheck program for young adults, 35% of the TSO audience is now under 35.

35% under 35! Fantastic news.  And how have they done it?

  • concert schedules that work for young professional audiences
  • low-priced tickets for not just students but also those aged 18-35 (23,000 this past season,good seats that can be selected in advance)
  • lobby parties after shortened Saturday-night concerts

The entire article is well worth reading–it sure brightened my day.  Doesn’t the following sound good?

[G]oing to the symphony has become a normal thing to do for under 35s in Toronto, and has even become a popular date-night activity. Trina Senechal Klinck, 32, began attending the TSO when she started dating her husband, Ben, in 2006.

“It’s the same prices as the movies and it’s more of an outing and it’s cultural. I’m always up for trying new things and the symphony offers things that are compelling to go to — you don’t feel like it’s from the bottom of the barrel. We’ve introduced a lot of our friends to [the TSO].”

I know not everyone (especially among some of my orchestral musician friends)  is happy with the idea of post-concert lobby parties.  But low-priced ticket programs and a fun atmosphere can obviously help to build a younger audience, and it doesn’t mean you have to dumb down the music.

Doesn’t the younger set want laser light shows and film scores? As it turns out, they don’t.

“If you listen to current bands like Radiohead, Fleet Foxes and Joanna Newsom,” said longtime tsoundchecker Dustin Cohen, 26, “you will see that … young people today continue to crave big-picture themes like love, loss, death and revolution. There’s a unique quality to live classical music. When I’m in the concert hall, watching the orchestra, I’m thinking: ‘I’m going to download this second movement when I get home!’”


Filed under attracting younger audeinces, audeince building, Gail Wein, Toronto Symphony Orchestra