Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Reaching the Everyday Person

When thinking of different places to perform benevolent brass, the first thing that pops into my head is "the community". How does classical music reach the everyday person these days? This has been a constant frustration of mine for many years now. The everyday person does not typically go to concert halls; most of them will say they do not ever listen to classical music. I have explained to a few people that they in fact do listen to classical music, it inspires emotions and they probably don't even realize it... When watching films. Watching a film with a nonmusician and pointing out moving or exciting music Is definitely an eye opener. I began doing this with my boyfriend Shaun when we first began dating. I asked him to try and watch a scene he thought was particularly moving without sound. He had never realized before that what was really pulling at his emotions in a suspenseful or sad or tragic scene was the music. I am proud to say that now he points out cool horn licks to me.:-) But where else does the everyday adult hear classical music? They do not really hear it anywhere. Introducing someone who has not ever listened to classical music is rather difficult. I have tried countless times to get Shaun to listen to classical recordings and he rarely finds them interesting or even tolerable. However, last semester he attended quite a few of the concerts I participated in and each time talked about the music like a kid talks about their new favorite toy. Live music is a great way to introduce a nonmusician to the classical realm. Why is this? One of the reasons recordings are more difficult to catch the interest is the files are condensed so they eliminate the highs and lows, reducing sound files and making it cheaper and easier to get your hands on. But what exactly are te high's and low's of a sound file? I am no physics of sound expert, but I believe these are the areas where the color, overtones, and rich/alive aspects of music lie. I tried an experiment at the suggestion of my horn professor, William Zsembery, during my artist diploma. I was having trouble listening to CDs of classical music for enjoyment purposes. He suggested I try listening to records. I noticed such a difference I went out and bought a record player and began collecting records. Nonmusician, everyday people tend to not go to the music so as musicians, I believe, it is our responsibility to figure out how to bring music to them. I tried to think of ways and would love some additional ideas. I believe the best way we can reach everyday people is through random performances in public places. I would love to memorize a collection of tunes for a small group and go bus stop hopping. Here in Iowa City that woud be very easy to do considering the bus is free and goes everywhere. Another way to bring music to everyday people is through street musicians. I have noticed that everyday people that enjoy classical music have been exposed, outside concert venues, via street musicians. Another great way to reach everyday people is through flash mobs. These are spontaneous and fun for musicians as well as being great exposure opportunities.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Nursing Home Programming

Programming for Nursing Homes can be fun and exciting.  First, call the nursing home you would like to play at and find out how long your performance may be and the date on which you may perform there.
If it is a Christmas gig, programming is easy peezy. I recommend that you spend some time finding Christmas arrangements from their generations, such as Bing Crosby arrangements.  This gives them a piece of their younger days and gives you a different arrangement to play besides the Canadian Brass standards. Stick to mainly pieces that will give your audience a warm and fuzzy feel and keep pieces such as "What Child is This" to a minimum. I would be cautious in these environments of playing "Rock" music or "Jazzy" type pieces unless you have been there before.  Remember that during a lot of your audience's prime, this type of music was still considered forbidden or even Devil Music.
If you perform in different seasons, it might be cool to include top chart hits from various years that came out in the month you perform for them. Maybe even include some good old fashioned parlor music or dance tunes. Compile a book with lots of extras for that gig so that you may incorporate your audience's interest.  Interact with your audience and let them live alittle. Perform pieces where they can clap their hands along or sing the words. Keep in mind that some of these people are veterans or were wives of veterans.  Patriotic tunes are typically popular among the elderly.The parlor tradition was a big smash in the olden days. Steven Foster songs are a good choice.  I would even throw in a few more modern tunes they might like such as John Denver hits or   arrangements of pieces from John Wayne or Shirley Temple movies.
Dress the part if you feel inclined.  If you have a female member maybe she would be willing to go out into the audience with some make-up and put some blush on willing cheeks while the rest of the group performs pieces that were popular in beauty parlors.  Along the same lines, with parlor tunes see if the nursing home might chip in and make some hot tea and pastries for the audience.
As a musician we can take their mind off death, we can take them back in time to some of their fondest memories... we can give them happiness and peace of mind.  Something so easy for us means so much to them.  Have fun with it and make an event of it!

Nursing Homes in the Iowa City Area

One of the places where our music is definitely needed and appreciated is in nursing homes.  These are normally volunteer gigs.  In the local area there are numerous Nursing Homes:
Nursing Homes in the Iowa City Area

Bickford Senior Living
3500 Lower West Branch Rd
Iowa City
(319) 351-3200
Legacy Active Retirement Community
1020 South Scott Boulevard
Iowa City
(319) 341-0911

Windmill Manor
2332 Liberty Drive
(319) 545-7390

Walden Place
2423 Walden Rd Iowa City, IA 52246
Telephone: (319) 337-7277

 Emeritus at Silver Pines
136 36 Th Ave Sw Cedar Rapids, IA 00000
Telephone: (888) 810-9348

Mercy Hospital
500 E Market St Iowa City, IA 52245
Telephone: (319) 339-0300

Greenwood Manor
605 Greenwood Dr Iowa City, IA 52246
Telephone: (319) 338-7912

Oaknoll Retirement Residence
701 Oaknoll Dr Iowa City, IA 52246
Telephone: (319) 351-1720

Programming: Ebb and Flow

Whether it be for a classical music performance or for a radio track list, I believe whole-heartedly, that there should be a purpose to every program you put together.  Perhaps this purpose is connected to an emotion such as grief or love. Perhaps it is associated to a place such as Rome, a graveyard, a doorway, a carnival... Perhaps it is associated to technical difficulty, derived from the most technical and difficult pieces you could possibly get your hands on...

A program should flow and meld together creating an inner connection.  Just as the movements of a symphony, your program from beginning to end should have variety that flows together.  I like to open with something that is flashy; in a recital it would typically be a horn call or fanfare. For an ensemble it is perhaps a smart move to begin with something the audience can relate to, something that asks for their attention without being too demanding. Conclude with a piece that is a good closer.  What exactly is a good closer? For abbreviated purposes it should send the audience away happy with a catchy and easily remembered piece, maybe even something that will remind them of the name of your group.

The program should be venue and location appropriate.  If you play in a graveyard, for example, you probably do not want to play perky and loud music or if your are performing in a pub you should veer away from a sad and slow program.  Keep your program audience appropriate too.  If you are playing for tried and true Texans, performing the Maryland state song and avoiding country tunes is probably a bad idea. Just as if you are playing for a Jewish ceremony, Christian wedding hymns are not going to win you any encores.  A good way to choose a program that is venue and location appropriate, without being too obvious or repetitive, is to think of your venue and write down a few words that relate to it.

For example you contract a brass quintet gig for an  evening outdoor gig in Gettysburg on a battlefield.  You go and visit the location.  It has an old standing oak near where you are playing. It is early fall and the leaves are just hinting at their vibrant colors. In this example you have several elements: the civil war, a battlefield, Fall, evening, superstition, probably a wind blowing, mountains in the background, etc.  Well the Civil War.... men in uniform.. North and South fighting for freedom, for glory... boys who pretended to be men.
There are so many different directions you could shape a program in this example...

One way.. imagine a 16 year old boy laying with his head on his rucksack in a trench close to the bows of the oak gazing up at the stars through the mist of his breath dreaming of what?.. his sweetheart back home, his mamma's cooking, his little brother reading him a story, his pa smoking a pipe by the fire...find pieces to fit this web you are trying to weave.

Another way to spin off from this scenario is obviously honoring the dead, honoring their sacrifice, respecting their resting place.  Place yourself in the shoes of their loved ones back home, in the shoes of their last breath... and program what you might have as a soundtrack behind these situations, these moments in time.

We as classical musicians often forget that music has power.  It can cross boundaries that most politics envy.  It can bring comfort and peace to the heart stricken, bring joy and happiness to the sad, celebrate with the one listening, give courage in times of need, and even fuel anger and hatred... Music has been known to breed chaos and even drive insanity. As musicians I believe we should build upon this, use our gift to help people find what they are looking for inside themselves.

Brass Literature Class Presentation

Hello all!  I wanted to post the presentation that I did in class this week.  I found some very enjoyable pieces for brass groups including brass quintet, quartet, trio, ensemble, horn ensemble,  and quartet.  The information for how to find each is included so you should be able to find the album and more music like the song relatively easily if you take an interest.  Enjoy!  I know I did:)

1. Titanic” Fantasy by Richard Bissell and performed by The London Horn Sound

Recorded at Abbey Road Studio in 1999 9:12

Written for 12 horns, timpani and percussion

Based on 3 tunes from the Titanic film score

Solo performer, Hugh Seenan finishes the solo on an ethereal top D

2. Nessun Dorma by Giacomo Puccini, arranged for Brass Choir by Daniel Leavitt and performed by Washington Symphonic Brass 2:48

3. O magnum mysterium by Lauridsen, arranged for brass choir by Jeffrey Budin and performed by The Bay Brass 6:36 on album Sound the Bells

Formed in 1995, The Bay Brass, is comprised of a cooperative of players from the San Francisco Bay Area's leading performing organizations including theSan Francisco Symphony, the San Francisco Ballet Orchestra, the San Francisco Opera Orchestra, and Symphony Silicon Valley. The aim of the group is to present both large-scale symphonic brass ensemble works and compositions for smaller combinations of players in acoustics which complement the wonderful sound of brass. In addition, The Bay Brass programs concerts of remarkable diversity, combining the traditional brass repertory with jazz and other contemporary styles, including the works of some of today's most influential composers.

4. Robin Hood Prince of Thieves arranged by Josef Reif 3:12 on Vienna Horns CD Track #1
Horns (8 or 12) and percussion

5. Fanfare for the Common Man by Copland performed by the PJBE Track #1 on Greatest Hits CD2

6. Pictures at an Exhibition by Modest Mussorgsky in 1874. Performed by the PJBE Tracks #18-32

7. St. Louis Blues performed by Canadian Brass on album 2 Centuries of Hits Track #7

8. Bernhard Crusell-Four pieces for the Band of the Swedish First Lifeguard Regiment Marche on album Antique Brasses, performed by The London Gabrieli Brass Ensemble approximately 8 minutes Tracks #24-27  Movements: Marche, Waltz, Andante, and Al la chasse

9. A Philharmonic Fanfare by The University of Maryland Brass Trio Track #1 on album Brass Trios composed by Eric Ewazen

10. Skarpskyttepolka Composed by Thure Hasselof and performed by Swedish Brass Quartet Track #9 on album Svenska Messingkvartetten

11. The Lion Sleeps Tonight by Solomon Linda performed by Berlin Philharmonic Horn Quartet on album Four Corners!

12. Wanton Horns (Chinese Kitchen Dreams) by Klaus Wallendorf performed by Berlin Philharmonic Horn Quartet on album Four Corners!

Friday, February 10, 2012

What's in a Name?

Hello again! I have been calling multiple people in the veterans programs to find answers and am still searching. While I wait to hear more I wanted to discuss what I believe to be an important topic that musicians face whether in the charitable realms or in paid gigs: marketability. Let's face it.. In today's society when anyone thinks of musical entertainment a brass quintet would be one of the last things they think of. D.J.'s, karaoke, rock band, etc.... But not brass quintet. So, what's a good way to begin? Your group needs to have a good name. Choose a catchy name, one that not only sounds neat to say but also is aesthetically appealing. This will help with advertising down the road. Keep in mind, the name you choose needs to be fitting of the type of group you are in, in this case a brass quintet. "Crazy Train" or "Skyrockets in Flight" might be catchy names but they have absolutely nothing in them to indicate they are the name for a brass quintet. Also, when choosing a name think ahead to the main type of audience you are trying to attract. The area you live in and the social atmosphere of that area actively play into the main type of audience you bring in. For example, if you want to primarily play for children's programs and you live in a retirement area, it probably is not going to work very well. Get to know your community and your group members and ultimately choose the name that best suits the entire picture. Your community and surroundings are very important. Does your community have a strong religious affiliation? Did anything happen of significance historically in the community? Are there specific cultural ties to a particular nationality? These are just some of many questions to ask yourself. What's in a name? The name you choose represents your identity. It is the first and last thing about you that the public sees and often remembers. It has the ability to subconsciously and even consciously shape your musical program, your attire, even venues where you choose to perform. For example. Say you live in an area where there is a string Irish heritage. Picking a Celtic name such as Sláinte Brass (Irish Gaelic for cheers) would be naturally appealing to the community. You could play in local pubs, parks, concert halls, etc. A brass quintet with a more conservative name probably would not be as easy to get into local pubs. This name is appropriate for all ages and all types of crowds. A name like this opens doors to come up with a fun look. Being creative and appealing with your attire makes you more personable and eye catching. This might seem like a small thing. After all, your music should sell itself. But having an appealing name is a great way to catch your initial audience and leave a lasting impression.

Sunday, February 5, 2012


I have been reflecting this past week upon the difficulties of the everyday classical musician attempting to get involved with performing for soldiers. I have decided to attempt to take a round about approach and contact veterans associations, the American Legion, and other organizations I come across to find out what kind of performance opportunities are out there. I will be focusing on the local area of Iowa City and Coralville but will try to taylor my conclusion to musicians everywhere. These associations tend to have a huge amount of funding backing them for activities and entertainment. I will attempt to find out all I can concerning this topic this week. Below is a questionare of sorts I will ask these organizations: How does one go about arranging for performances for local veterans? Are there specific places such as the American Legion or VFW that could serve as an appropriate venue? How would one go about advertising? Is there funding available for musical entertainment? What kind of music would appeal to local veterans? Are there children's programs available for veterans families? What kind of paid and volunteer services can musicians get involved in? If anyone has any question suggestions, I am all ears. When I call to ask for information, I am going to present the community brass quintet I play in as the group. I believe that a brass quintet can meld into the performance preferences of everyday people much better then say a horn quartet or woodwind quintet. Wish me luck!