Reawakening the classical conversation for the 21st Century.


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Saturday, November 22, 2003

Orange County has gotten 5 venue votes, and is therefore the first city to have a chance at a classical.meetup.com meetup.

Friday, November 21, 2003

Started Classical Music blogroll, this is the code. I still have to go through about 1000 sites to find actual blogs - as opposed to static sites.

<script language="javascript" type="text/javascript" src="http://rpc.blogrolling.com/display.php?r=a9ab04e9955b10f13e8b7c66de231aa8"></script>

Kyle Gann weighs in with a post that starts with Bartok and ends with ruminations on how the rock of stylistic idea has been removed from composing.

Meetup Numbers:

Opera , 13
Classical , 259 +3 or +1%

To give people an idea of general numbers for musical genres - Jazz has only 400 members, Rock approximately the same. Why is this? Because most of the organization is in more specific groups - Insane Clown Posse has 7000. The same pattern is repeated elsewhere - the Democratic Party meetup has many fewer people than the main candidates who use meetup.com

So why do this? There is a hyper technical answer based on "network mathematics", but it boils down to this - when you have people connected, the distance between them, in number of connections, is very high if people only know people much like themselves. But create a few - a very few - long connections, and suddenly everyone's distance drops dramatically. Creating general purpose meetups is one way to create connections which "jump" across the boundaries.

Thursday, November 20, 2003

Performance Today, a music program which features classical music recorded, not in the studio, but in concert, runs on NPR. The station list is:

on the NPR website

In the spirit of the last sentence of Stirling's last post--about bonds, I'm posting here an article I wrote when I was the New Music columnist for American Record Guide, wherein I outlined what I saw (and still see) as a way of opening up classical music for more people. Here it is, as I wrote it, with only minor edits:

It has become a truism that negative political campaign advertising has two effects. The first is that it works—candidates who run negative campaigns tend to win their races. The essential thrust of this kind of campaign is to drive up the opponent’s “negatives”. Research is conducted in order to discover “soft spots” in the public’s perception of the opposition. Once found, these soft spots, whether relevant to the office being sought or even factual, are magnified so that they become the image of the candidate foremost in the public mind. This sort of campaigning does not so much get some people elected as it prevents others from being heard.

This leads to the other effect negative political campaigns have; one that is even more pernicious and probably more long-lasting. According to polling, negative campaigning reduces voter turnout and pushes people away from politics and from participation in their own government. This lack of participation reduces the quality of government and threatens its very legitimacy.

Some observers of the classical music world (including but not limited to Norman Lebrecht) see a crisis in our music that threatens its viability as an art form, if not its very existence. Contemporary music—music being composed today and in the very recent past—is, in pure numeric terms, a very small part of the world of classical, or concert, music. Our Editor pointed out in the last issue that contemporary music is the second largest category of disc sent to ARG for review. My experience leads me to guess that if you limit the numbers to “major” commercial labels, contemporary music would drop considerably among categories.

Despite the relatively small role contemporary music plays in the concert music world, most of the controversies in music criticism revolve around new music and living composers. The century just past saw composers and their supporters in the critical community divided into warring camps over virtually every music issue imaginable. Style, dissonance level, form, and the web of relationships between composer, performer, and audience are just some of the lines of demarcation for the style wars that have raged for decades now. Since around 1975, when tonality regained its place as the way most concert music is organized (if this place was ever lost), the style wars have been fought over whether composers use tonality or atonality in the organization of their works. Critics and composers on one side of the tonal divide claim that those on the other have gravely contributed to the “decline” of concert music by driving away audiences while supporters of the other side make accusations of pandering and of causing the art to become creatively stagnant.

Each side of this tonal divide has devoted dozens of writings to driving up the “negatives” of the other. Campaigns in the arts, unlike political campaigns, have no election day, and no clear “winner”. However, the other effect of negative campaigns—driving people away from music, in this instance—can be seen, if not definitively measured. Anecdotal evidence like conversation, correspondence, and observation indicates that many people are discouraged from entering the world of concert music by these style wars. After all, it is very easy to find writings in prestigious publications that attempt to eviscerate and delegitimize every style of composition there is.

This kind of criticism appears in publications of all types and sizes, including, I’m sorry to say, this one. The following paragraph appeared in the November/December 1998 issue:

A confession: The crop of composers of all ages and nationalities writing music that could have been written 50 or, in some extreme cases, 100 years ago remains something of a mystery to me. The syntax, harmony, and large scale forms used by Stephen Hartke, James Yannatos, Francis Judd Cooke, and John Biggs would all have been, with the possible exception of some small details, acceptable and accessible, even familiar, to audiences decades ago. In fact, though Biggs’s Oboe and Violin Concertos were written decades apart (1949 and 1993, respectively), I don’t think anyone could confidently say, upon hearing them, which piece was the earlier of the two. The Oboe Concerto actually sounds fresher and newer–I wonder if that is because its language is more in the present of its time than the Violin Concerto. [p. 335]

This is a model of style wars criticism. Note the (obviously) fake reluctance on the part of the writer to make his confession, and the implication that he really doesn’t want to understand why and how composers use a tonal vocabulary. This review paints all of these composers with the same dismissive broad brush. This kind of thing is very easy for a critic to do. I know. I wrote it.

Critics on the “other side” of the style wars use a similarly sweeping tone to indict groups of composers:

The Piano Concerto was written in 1966, but thank goodness it does not reflect the trends of that period. Still, what music written in 1966 was not sterile? [M/J 2001, p. 104]

Powerful, lasting compositions (in a variety of styles) like Stravinsky’s Requiem Canticles, Shostakovich’s Eleventh Quartet and Second Cello Concerto, and Britten’s Burning Fiery Furnace stand as rebukes to this facile critical broadside.

Just as the label “bureaucrat” is used as political shorthand to demonize public servants (without the burden of actually having to say anything of substance), style warriors use the term “academic” as shorthand for everything wrong in the world of music:

The Clarinet Quintet of Penderecki is one of the most astonishing pieces I have heard in years. It sports his later “romantic” style, but has a feeling and tragic fatalism that you would find in a piece like the Shostakovich Eighth Quartet. I was riveted over and over, each time feeling that the work had ended far too soon. This piece has real staying power and should find its place in the clarinet repertory. When I was in college, compositions like the St. Luke Passion were all the rage, and we were being forced by goose-stepping academics to imitate this sort of writing. Years later, I am still over-whelmed by the spiritual power of that work, though at the time I felt that there was a little of the charlatan in Penderecki, and I wondered if he was even capable of writing music that had any sort of tonal appeal. [M/J 2001, p.112]

This is a remarkable piece of writing, not less so because the first four sentences (those dealing with the Clarinet Quartet) point to a way out of the style wars. But, instead of telling the reader what the Quartet sounds like and what it has to offer players and listeners, the writer gives us a broadside against teachers introducing him to the techniques used to make a piece whose “spiritual power” he still finds overwhelming. He even invokes the Nazis (“goose-stepping academics”) in reference to those who visited the horrors of the Passion on him as a student. Comparing opponents to the Nazis is considered beyond the pale even in today’s debased political environment, where standards apparently are higher than in music criticism. Finally, the sentence about Penderecki’s “charlatanism” seems totally gratuitous and beside any meaningful point.

If my dismissal of several discs of neo-tonal music is a model of style wars criticism, then the review of a disc of Kaija Saariaho’s vocal music, beginning on page 165 of the M/J 2001 issue, is a compendium of its techniques, including some already seen as well as a few new ones. The reviewer compares Saariaho to two of the bogeymen of the tonalists—Cage and Boulez—not once, but three times. Never mind that these composers really sound very little alike, their names alone are symbols of the decadence of atonality. He also invokes the specter of twelve-tone technique, which I don’t believe Saariaho uses in the works for which she is known (though it is possible she did in some of her early pieces). And that brings up the smoking gun of this writer’s dismissive treatment of the disc—the reviewer did not even engage enough with the material to find out that Kaija Saariaho is a woman (“He uses a variety of instruments…”). It would not have taken much digging to find this out, but the reviewer clearly had another agenda in mind.

How do we get out of this situation, assuming we don’t have an interest in seeing it stay this way? Many critics and others clearly have invested a lot of energy in fighting these battles, and those who want the music world to reflect their views and interest will certainly continue the negative campaigning. If we want our art to grow and prosper, however, a new approach is necessary.

For my part, I intend to focus my writing, especially my reviews of concerts and recordings, on the music itself, trying to communicate to the reader what the music sounds like and how it makes its statement. The review of the Penderecki Clarinet Quartet quoted above is, in its first few sentences, a start towards the kind of writing I want to aim for, as the reviewer places the piece in a stylistic and expressive context. Imagine how much more valuable the review would have been had the next few sentences been devoted to some detail about the sound of the piece and the performers’ interpretive responses to it, rather than the material that did follow.

Again, this kind of focused writing on music is not easy, and will take great time and effort to achieve. The result, however, will be well worth the effort.

Meetup Numbers:

Opera , 13 (+8% in one day - the joy of easy comparisons)
Classical , 256 (+2.4% in one day)

Classical has started to happen, while 2 percent per day may not sound like much consider the following: after one year that is over 200,000 members. While it is unlikely that this will continue for that long, if classical meetup were to reach a few thousand people, that would mean hundreds of meetups around the world every month, there would be a place to find classical music people in every major city - you would never be far from others who feel as you do about this music. The next step is to tell your friends and send it out to any email list you belong to as to why you are joining the classical meetup.

What is important here is to start to create a better channel between the world of classical music and the people who are deeply attached to it - and create stronger bonds between people for whom this music is a part of their lives and a part of their thoughts.

Wednesday, November 19, 2003

Meetup - the process

2 weeks before a meetup, where ever there are 5 or more people signed up, meetup.com sends out an email, asking people to pick a venue. This is called "venue voting". The cities that have venue voting going on are said to be "in play". If there are 5 people who vote - even if they choose "no preference", then the city will have invitations sent out. A city which has invitations sent out is said to have "converted".

1 week before the meetup is supposed to happen, invitations are sent out, and people again click on to the site to RSVP. If there are 5 RSVPs an official meetup happens.


5 or more members ---> Venue voting
5 or more venue votes ---> invitations
5 or more RSVPs ---> meetup officially happens

right now, with 5 days of venue voting left, Orange County CA needs just one more person to be the first classical meetup to convert, ever. New York and Dallas need just 2. If you are close to these cities - consider going to classical.meetup.com, and changing to one of them, and venue voting. The way to do this is to click on the link that says "other cities", and selecting from the list the city you want, you can always change it later.

The following cities have 3 or 4 venue votes:

Orange County, CA
Dallas-Plano, TX
New York City

The following cities are "in play".
They need to get to 5 venue votes to have invitations sent out:

Boston, MA
Chicago, IL
Orlando, FL
Baltimore, MD
Pittsburgh, PA
San Diego, CA
Seattle, WA
Santa Monica, CA
Santa Clara County, CA
Houston, TX
Hollywood-East LA, CA
Philadelphia, PA
Rochester, NY
San Francisco, CA
Tucson, AZ
Washington, DC
Ann Arbor, MI

What to do? Discuss what we should be doing next here.

My first task is to get some media drivers going - will take a least a month before there is any movement there, but that is life. The other one is to see if we can start converting on classical meetups. If boston can't get one together, then there isn't much hope.

Other tasks: someone needs to write a piece on pushing classical meetup, and we need to start getting an ideology going.

Fixing some table bugs in the HTML

Who I need to write to:

The Classical page maintainers at Barnes and Noble, Borders, HMG etc.

Berkshire Record Outlet.

List of classical music stations - need to get this from ASCAP and BMI.

Orchestras - get this from http://www.symphony.org/ - while I am at it, get them to link to the classical meetup.

That should keep me - or anyone else - busy. Will post addresses here when I have them.

Tuesday, November 18, 2003

Meetup Numbers

Opera , 12
Classical , 246

Classical Meetup

What is meetup? It is a free service which allows people to meet other people with similar interests. What put meetup on the map is its use by the Dean campaign and the Draft Clark movement - which both grew meetups from a few hundred people to tens of thousands in a matter of months, and from a few scattered meetings to hundreds every month. The internet is finally getting face to face tools that match email and forums for getting people active.

The classical meetup right now has a few hundred members, and has never had a meeting - but then, the same was true of the Clark meetup in April of this year. I'm not associated with meetup.com in anyway - but I do see the value of getting classical enthusiasts together on a regular basis. The old institutions that held classical music together - orchestral societies and classical radio - are not as powerful as they once were. If we are to return classical music to a central place in public life - it needs to have, in the language of computer technology - evangelists.

What is most appealing is that there is no centralized control or agenda - each group of people meeting determines what they want to do and what they want to talk about. Classical enthusiasts can help each other, but it isn't "about" what a particular group wants.

So how does this work?

First if you don't have a meetup account - which requires no more effort than registering for the New York Times web site - create one. Then log into the url of a topic - whether political, social or cultural, just by typing in the topic.meetup.com.

From there you select a home city. If there are 5 members in that city, then Meetup sends out an invitation to "vote" for a venue. If more than 5 people vote for venues - even if not the same one - then meetup will, a week before the meetup - send out invitations to which people will "RSVP". If there are 5 or more RSVPs, then a meetup is scheduled at the venue with the most votes for it. People show up, and it is hoped, get something going.

Some warnings - there are many cities, but with very small meetups - and classical and opera are both very, very small - it is best to pick a nearby large city, better to get people together. The Symphony X blog will track cities for meetup and try and find cities which if they merged would be able to create a meetup. The same tools that worked in politics can be made to work for culture as well.

For people interested in more detail search news.google.com for meetup.com - there have been several articles written about this particular site and its uses. Its time to stop complaining about the lack of vigor in classical music, and start to do something about it.

The plan:

The purpose of this blog is to build a classical music sphere on the internet, and move away from the disorganized grassroots approach that has been taken so far - because it does not generate the kind of enthusiasm, or as the term of art goes "force".

What is a sphere? Christopher Lydon interviews Stirling Newberry on exactly that question. A sphere is an network of activity - not merely websites and email lists, but a structure which takes mass media, micro media and new media together to create a digitopolis - a community linked together by the internet, but which is focused outwards on changing the real world and building real world connections.

This blog will provide tools to aid this, and act as a center to get people moving forward on changing the connections within classical music, drawing classical music writers, performers and institution builders into the activity. It is meant to create leadership in the classical music world.

The reason this is important is that the older institutions that used to maintain the classical world are falling on hard times. Classical radio and classical orchestras are no longer the kind of focus for social activity that they were before. Something must replace this function in the classical music world. The same transformation has hit politics, and it has made it so that two candidates that were polling at "asterix" a year ago are the two front runners and raising millions of dollars online. The same techniques that built these political movements can be used - with adaptations - for building longer lasting cultural networks.

What is important to realize is that this is an urgent project, that the old world of allowing other institutions to run the building of networks is no longer possible. Instead a new method, which intergrates the older institutions, rather than rejecting them, is required. This method is the building of spheres.

Over the coming weeks this blog will lay out the project and the plan for accomplishing it, as well as forming a core of support to drive this outward. The objective will be to convince major institutions that it is worth their time and effort to promote the classical music sphere, rather than attempt to go it alone.

I will be adding "blog rolls" shortly - which are ways of keeping track of a list of links, which anyone can add to their site. In the meantime, I am going to add a few of the classical music blogs that turn up on a quick search, just to get the process started.

To add this to a page, simply cut and paste the following:

<a href="http://classical.meetup.com/"><img border="0" src="http://img.meetup.com/img/logo/med/c/classical.png"></a>

The first thing to do is to post this link. For those who are not familiar with it, meetup.com is a free service that allows people to sign up for topics they are interested in, vote for a place to meet others who are interested in that topic, and, if there are enough people in a area - go and meet them. Right now there are only a few hundred people signed up - far too few to generate any activity. But meetup.com has been used by political campaigns - Dean and Clark more than others - to create bonds between people.

In a few months, a meetup can go from 300 to 30,000 - and from 1 meetup anywhere to 300 around the world. This is not to say that the classical meetup will grow as quickly, but I dare say that Beethoven's fan club will still be here 100 years from now.

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