Saturday, December 19, 2009

Arts Funding

It seems like every year, whether in recession as we are now, or in good times, that public based arts funding is attacked as an area where money could be saved. This begs the question: how important is it for the general public to fund the arts when so many difficult decisions must be made?

In NJ, many arts organizations are in trouble making payroll because Governor-elect Christie has frozen arts funds while he balances out the challenges our state faces. As part of the debate that must be occurring with many tough choices ahead, I would like to address why, in my opinion, arts funding is at the core of what is important on both an economic and quality of life basis.

According to our government's own studies, every dollar spent on arts funding brings back more than a dollar in tax revenue, and in many counties, a 100% return. Investing in arts infrastructure stimulates industry and business growth in both public and private sectors, which employ people and bring tax dollars back into the system. These returns are derived from tax revenues paid by artists, managers, venues in ticket sales, restaurant revenues from people who dine out because they are attending performances, gas bought to get to performances and openings, recordings purchased that were funded through government initiatives, tourism, and many other metrics where the arts are involved. Simply put, the arts bring commerce to our municipalities.

If I told you that an investment opportunity awaited that offered you a 100% return over the course of one year, wouldn't this be something you would want to invest in? This is a choice in front of our colleagues in governing positions.

Unfortunately, in the world of sound bite politics, the arts are an easy target because they are sold to many as artistic welfare for a small group of self-important elitists. This is as untrue as 2 + 2 =5! Rather, this public investment is a deep foundational affirmation that our society believes creative thinking is crucially important.
Do you want your kids to watch television rather than take music lessons and play in orchestras, or play video games rather than take painting classes where they capture emotion in what they see, or take only SAT prep courses rather than take acting classes where they can learn how to be compassionate and creative? What about taking pottery classes where they use their imaginations to create objects that are both functional and inspiring, or taking dance classes where motion captures transcendent emotion? Are we more interested in reality tv than in the beauty around us in reality? I hope we would want to add meaning and understanding to the world rather than simply be affected by it. Artists sacrifice financial gain in many cases to unlock the truths around us in sound, on canvas, in motion. What they bring to our lives and those of our children is the capacity to dream.

There are literally hundreds of studies that show the correlation between arts education and critical thinking, math aptitude, and writing skills. Take a look at virtually every major scientist who has done something of value and you will find in each a long standing passion for active participation in the arts - this is not a coincidence. People question why we are falling behind in the sciences and I ask, how can we stay ahead if the creative approaches that the arts teach are not core to our educational philosophy?

There are hundreds of studies that measure the qualitative and quantitative responses of our immune systems (as a health example) when affected by music, dance and visual arts. There are clear demonstrations for instance, that music can have a palliative and healing affect on people with cancer. This is why music therapy is being offered in so many hospitals around the world - it's because it works.

The fact is, from economic, educational, health, and moral perspectives, arts funding brings something to our collective existence that is indispensible. Until our colleagues in both government (and truthfully in local communities) think, evaluate, assess, and realize that their lives and those of their children are being devastated by potential cuts, they will continue to damage our ability to excel in endeavors that have global effect on us all.

Perhaps in NJ at least our new Governor will see that a job loss program with such far reaching effect is not prudent, and that while the upfront expense of arts funding is painful in a recession, the ultimate upside easily outweighs a quick fix decision, when in truth, the arts pays for itself on every level.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Time for the Holidays!

It seems every year the holidays come sooner and sooner - it's a universal comment I hear from friends and family. I was recently at a local mall and Santa was already accepting a variety of Christmas wishes long before Thanksgiving has even come into focus! In some ways I sympathize, because I too am starting to look at scores for the upcoming Colonial Symphony holiday concert on December 6th at the Community Theatre in Morristown. I feel like I'm now surrounded by both decorations and sounds of the holidays everywhere I go as a result!

Truth be told: I don't mind too much, and in fact, actually kind of like it all. Firstly, if taken in a purer sense, this time of the year is always about giving to others. I also love the beauty of lights and the decorations - everything feels festive and as if we are making the best of the circumstances with which we are faced, whether challenging, or sometimes very challenging. I also just am reminded every year of how I love the music of the season.

In an earlier blog from a year ago, I posted about the quality of holiday music and how, while much of it is perhaps not written with the indisputable genius of a Beethoven or Brahms symphony, not all music must be at the highest intellectual level to generate emotional response, especially when dealing with the tremendous amount of color that an orchestra can offer. The sound of harp, strings, brass, winds, and percussion together performing works that we've grown up singing, that we've grown up hearing as a part of our seasonal experience, no matter our religious background, give us a chance to celebrate a time of year that has the opportunity to bring us together in a manner that is respectful and caring. With all the forces driving us apart as friends and neighbors, isn't it wonderful to have a concert that is truly unifying around themes of beauty, kindness, laughter, energy, health, and love? To me, this is cool.

As I look at music by Tchaikovsky - some selections from the Nutcracker and from his 4th symphony, I'm filled with a sense of fun. I look at Johann Strauss's Emporer Waltz, or Vaughan Williams Greensleeves, or an arrangement of Walking in a Winter Wonderland - it makes me feel good. I also am excited to be working again with the students of Morristown High School's Choir along with the gifted Michael Nuzzo, their director. Hearing young artists get their first taste of what it is to make music next to a world class symphony orchestra is truly astonishing, especially when we're doing music by Joseph Haydn from The Creation - one of the most amazing works in in our collective history. Or simply leading a holiday sing-a-long where an entire audience joins in the music making process. Hearing people sing songs they love together along with an incredible orchestra is wonderful - you should check this out!

Beyond, I know that if you listen to live music that you like, your immune system is boosted by up to 20% by a variety of quantifiable metrics. This is something that I think right now given H1N1 is something that makes me feel especially good - we can all use a little help!

I hope you will join me for a wonderful evening of amazing music, of laughter, and of family as we come together for the greatest sounds of the holidays, played by this fantastic orchestra. Just looking at this music makes me feel great - I can't wait to share it with you in live space!

For more information, you can go to

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Conducting from Memory

Conducting from memory has become a requirement for most conductors these days. It's hard to find an orchestral concert on PBS where a conductor is not leading at least one piece without a stand and score front and center. It seems a little odd, because for most of the historical broadcasts I've watched from the 1940's through the 70's, this was not the case. Conductors had the score in front of them, not because it wasn't memorized most of the time, but rather almost as a reverent gesture to the composer's intent. In other words, for those of us who study these masterpieces, there is always something new we discover in scores no matter how many times we look at them. They are endlessly fascinating, deep, full of intellectual and emotional touches based in a craft that many times is perhaps divinely inspired. Yet lately it almost has become more respectful to conduct without the music. This has become the manner in which to not only honor the composer (you are showing it is all in your head), but also a virtuosic display in keeping with what audiences want to see. They want to be dazzled.

Certainly there is a wonderfully trite old adage - you should have the score in your head and not your head in the score! But with this changed sensibility, it is certainly a habit that I have formed due to the pressures associated with expectations as well as my own experience of doing it.

So - is conducting a symphony from memory hard to do? What is required? Does it make a difference as a conductor to have no music in front of you?

It's something I've been thinking about lately, since I conducted Mendelssohn's Symphony No. 4 "Italian" from memory last night with the Colonial Symphony at the Dorothy Young Center for the Arts in Madison, and this week on Friday, October 30th, I'll lead Ravel's Daphnis and Chloe Suite No. 2 from memory as well with the MSU Symphony.

The truth is conducting from memory is a function of three things: 1) time; 2) a decent memory for sound; and 3) trust in the musicians with whom you are making music. When I'm leading a piece from memory I am both seeing the score in my mind's eye and responding to sound in the present tense. If you sing along to a song that you've heard over and over again, you don't have to think about what lyrics will come next, or what the sound is like in the drums or guitars. It just is something that comes to you having heard one of your favorites perhaps for years. You've listened to it enough that your musical memory is so strong that you just react in the moment to what you KNOW comes next.

For a conductor this is part of that process - you have listened and studied to such a degree that you remember every detail as it occurs. Even when mixed meter is involved, your hands and body lead the mind - they just go where they need to as if they had a mind of their own! However, the difference between conducting and simply singing a song is the fact that you also have the picture of the score in your head with the notes associated. It's like memorizing a giant work for piano, with many lines in front of you. It just takes time.

As to the effect on you as a conductor, I have to be honest - it is liberating to not have to turn pages. In addition, when a stand is not in front of you, it's as if another barrier has been removed. Have you ever tried to give someone a hug with a stand in the middle?! When you remove that hurdle, it exposes your soul a little more fully and there is a visceral and kinetic connection between orchestra and conductor. It is palpable. The bond between music, musicians, and conductor becomes more transparent.

In addition, musicians know how much time it takes to memorize music, and when they see you as a conductor without a score, it means that you've worked very hard to not only know the music well, but somehow that you've respected them in the process. Beyond, it means you trust that they are going to do their jobs.

Audiences are the same - it strikes them as if you are doing something that requires intellect and ability. I've never conducted something from memory where someone from the audience hasn't commented about it afterward, and even in the press, many critics respond similarly with remarks. Read the NY Times reviews of Gustavo Dudamel from his first two concerts and you'll see what I mean.

When conducting a soloist, I usually try to always have a score in front of me no matter how well I know the music. Solo artists are capable of becoming "inspired" in the middle of a performance and doing something unexpected. This risk is managed a little better when the score is right there and I truly feel safer. In last night's performance, I led the Mendelssohn Violin Concerto, which I could do from memory as I did the Italian Symphony. But I kept the score in front of me and as it turned out, my soloist Jorge Avila took some chances, which were musically beautiful. When slightly surprised, having the map in front of you is like walking on a tight rope with a safety net! Also when conducting a world premiere as I did last night by Harold Meltzer, I like having the music there since the score usually comes on the late side and beyond, a new piece without the history of works that have been with us for years takes a while to fully digest.

In the balance I think that this aesthetic is with us to stay. You can expect to see more conductors conduct without a score over time and it is a practice that, in my opinion, will only continue to grow in importance to audiences and musicians alike.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

The Art of Programming

One of the pleasurable responsibilities I have as the Music Director of the Colonial Symphony is to put programs together that make sense artistically as individual experiences as well as part of an entire season. I think of this process in a similar manner to fine dining on two levels: one is a single culinary experience of the highest caliber, where every dish has its own place within the meal; the second is about dining over several nights at the same restaurant, where one has the opportunity to experience the truth of a chef’s artistic aesthetic.

In the orchestral world, I want a listener to feel as if they went to a concert that left them uplifted, as if the musical meal gave them energy with which to leave the concert hall. These concerts should work well as individual events and also as performances that connect to each other over the course of a year. I call this fine aural dining!

So how does this all come together?

Let me give you some examples from the Colonial Symphony’s current season of four concerts, which will provide a window into the programmatic philosophy I employ:

The first concert on October 24th at the Dorothy Young Center for the Arts needed to feature a world premiere by Harold Meltzer. This composition would be the culmination of a Music Alive Residency we received from the American Symphony Orchestra League and Meet the Composer, a prestigious award given to eight orchestras nationally each year (as a composer, Harold was the runner-up for the 2009 Pulitzer Prize and has received many honors for his original voice). In terms of my programmatic thought, he is able to write contemporary music that has both high craft and beautifully long melodic lines. It is also music that is delivered with wit and rhythmic humor. When discussing the work, we originally were going to call it Forgiveness, but because the piece was beginning to take shape as more of a fun fantasy, that colored my approach moving forward, even though a final title has yet to be chosen.

I needed to put pieces around it that were of similar concept. I first thought of Mendelssohn as a composer, partly because he has an excellent sense of musical humor, and also because he can spin a melody within a rhythmic voice that feels natural and playful. This is similar to how Harold writes. There’s also lightness in his approach, which would work with Harold’s evolving ideas. The Symphony No. 4 “Italian” is inventive and fresh, melodically centered and vibrant, full of smiles and good natured fun. In other words, it would be a wonderful compliment to our world premiere in terms of its vibe and sound world.

The next task was to come up with a work that would fit in between these two gems. I wanted to do a concerto with our concertmaster Jorge Avila, who projects such strength and affection in his playing. I also needed a piece that was again melodically rich and one that would add some emotional balance to the playful qualities in the Meltzer and Mendelssohn. Robert Schumann came to mind as a composer who is perhaps most famous for his narrative gifts – he wrote music that is completely singable and beautiful. This idea led me to his Violin Concerto, a work that is underperformed in the United States, yet possesses high-level craft and melodic genius. It seemed to be a perfect fit for this program – one whose mood gives contour to a program that already has plenty of bonhomie.

I had my first program – Harold Meltzer’s World Premiere, Schumann’s Violin Concerto with Jorge Avila, and then Mendelssohn’s Symphony No. 4 “Italian.” And it all comes in at 60 minutes of music: a good length, especially when you consider the time between each work, the fact that I introduce each piece to the audience, and then of course an intermission of about fifteen to twenty minutes.

Since this program was light, I didn’t want the next on December 6th to be too heavy. It would be like starting a dinner with a light tomato soup and then having a heaping-helping of barbecued ribs! Both are great dishes individually, but make no sense together! This concert occurs at a time when so many people are enjoying the spirit of the holidays, so I wanted to perform pieces that fit the ethos of the season. This thought led me to program works such as Johann Strauss’s Emperor Waltz, Leroy Anderson’s Sleighride and Christmas Festival Overture, John Williams Themes from the Polar Express, Randol Bass’s Gloria and Mozart’s Exultate Jubilate with singers from local high school choirs, John Finnegen’s Christmas Sings and Bill Holcombe’s Festival sounds of Hanukah for audience participation, and famous arrangements of Winter Wonderland and I’m Dreaming of a White Christmas, all of which are tailor made to make people happy, which sometimes is helpful after a day of heavy shopping! Beyond, each work possesses beautiful melodies and has tremendous orchestrational craft. This fits with my first program both in weight and quality, while at the same time offering a completely different musical experience.

For the February 13th program I wanted a foil to the December concert. I needed to find music that had a connection to what comes before, yet is different in spirit and sound. Since I had used Mozart’s Exultate Jubilate on the previous program, I thought it would be interesting to perform his Eine Kleine Nachtmusik as connective tissue. The works are very different, even though the composer has an aural thread in his miraculous voice. Also, to make it fresh beyond my interpretive musical ideas, I thought it would be fun to put some of the musicians in the house so that the music literally surrounds the audience. This is possible because we will be performing in the amazing acoustic of the Dorothy Young Center for the Arts, which allows this sort of theatrical option. Because of that dramatic element, I next came to Aaron Copland’s Appalachian Spring, which is a piece of quintessential American dance music; although to keep things interesting in the vein of Eine Kleine, I thought of presenting it with a nod to its conception: I approached Nancy Turino and the esteemed NJ Dance Theater Ensemble for a collaboration, which will make for a beautifully realized interpretation of the piece, featuring both orchestra and dancers on stage together. Finally, since other inventive ideas were a part of the emerging program, I thought of Stravinsky’s L’histoire du Soldat, a Faustian tale that can be performed with actors. However in our case, I decided to approach bestselling author and voice over specialist Alison Larkin, a phenomenally talented artist, who would have the ability to create voices for all the characters and narrate this tale with dynamic force. I had my third program, different from the first two, but part of the seasonal arch.

Finally, for the last concert on May 8th at the Dorothy Young Center for the Arts again, I wanted something dramatic to keep the flow going from the previous concert; although this time I wanted the audience to focus solely on music while experiencing some sort of narrative. I began to think of Leonard Bernstein’s Candide, which I conducted on Broadway at the Gershwin Theater in 1997. I went about contacting soloists from the Metropolitan Opera’s Lindemann Young Artist Program and friends from the Broadway production and received enthusiastic responses. I next began to work on a chorus and was able to engage the wonderful Anne Matlack and her amazing choir Harmonium. Finally there are smaller parts for which I will be holding auditions in the Fall. Gifted collegians drawn from our local colleges including Drew University and Montclair State University, where I am also a professor, will make up the balance of the cast. This would cap off an amazing season of music.

Each piece chosen this year is a work I love – I can sincerely conduct every one of them with honest passion. I believe these are also works that the Colonial Symphony’s musicians will love performing. This programmatic approach is something I believe creates a unified artistic experience for the concertgoer whether they go to one concert or all. These folks can partake in events that are delicious for the ears, exciting for the heart, intellectually rich, and just plain fun. The best part is that they will hear music performed with tremendous skill, precision, and youthful enthusiasm.

I hope this insight helps you understand how an orchestral season takes form. For the Colonial Symphony, it’s a joyful journey through some of the greatest sounds human imagination has ever conjured! I hope you’ll join us!

More information about Colonial Symphony events can be found at or by calling 973-984-7400.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Beethoven in Practice

Beethoven has been the subject of musical fascination among musicians, scholars, and audiences alike for years because of his out sized personality, internal conflicts, and of course the extraordinary quality of his work. There has been a staggering amount of research done into his life (I love Maynard Solomon's psychological biography and Scott Burnham's Beethoven Hero) as well as analyses of his music (Lewis Lockwood's Inside Beethoven Quartets, etc...)

While there are many ways to approach his music, I believe that the best is perhaps to apply an intuitive aesthetic around the sound I will hear in rehearsal and performance. In other words, the live music paradigm is singular in its ability to impart musical insight and it is in this arena that common sense leads to beauty when applied with affection. This is not to say that preparation doesn't play a role - it absolutely does both in terms of analysis and musicological research. But all of this is a foundation for what will happen in the presence of sound, when decisions are made and when my imagination finally intersects with reality. This is when I see what Beethoven really did, because no matter how acute my imagination is, it never seems to compare with the beauty of sound heard in the present tense, and this is something also that can not be replicated by a recording.

Right now I'm looking at his 4th Piano Concerto, which simply put is a miracle. So far in this foundational period I’m finding the piece to be as multifaceted a statement as Beethoven ever made. It seems like the piano represents the person Beethoven wants to be. The solo part is virtuosic, deeply lyrical, rhythmically driving, rhythmically flexible, romantic, playful, humorous, cajoling, intellectually secure, sad, profound, joyful, free, contained, respectful, rambunctious, angry, loving, etc…It represents someone who tastes life fully. It is human to the core. The orchestra is compassionate, thoughtful, responsive, divisive, insistent, malleable, lush, frugal, egalitarian, hopeful, frustrated, hyper, calm, mysterious, open, rhapsodic, static, evolving, loving, etc… It is a community that cares.

While this is all interesting to me, what I find so compelling in this work is its authentic take on the journey of life. It’s as if Beethoven was touched by the finger of God in an effort to find the essence of our collective humanity - heavy stuff! It touches on so many emotional states with a rare sense of knowledge, but not one that is knowing, but rather feeling. One can dissect the harmonic, melodic, rhythmic, textural, and formal construction endlessly, but the piece lives in another world that is perfect and perfectly human on an intuitive level. This is the conundrum of Beethoven: he is an imperfect person by every account with wild insecurity, arrogance, talent, complete empathy for humanity and yet lacking in tolerance for the majority of those around him – a person endowed with tremendous positive and negative qualities and at the same time one who is made perfect in musical sound, the language of angels. He is a composer who can make an audience (and me for that matter) feel our best by showing us both our best and worst. This is what I feel in his music.

It will be fun to see how my initial ideas of the piece take shape with my colleague Ruth Rendleman and the students of the MSU Symphony - I can’t wait to get the music out of my head and into the real world. What I do know is that when music is experienced firsthand at the point of creation, especially through a work as wonderful as this concerto, I find myself in the middle of a magical time in which I am afforded an opportunity to see the truth of genius in a way that study alone does not allow. I think hearing it live will give you a similar experience, especially if you take a little time in advance of a performance to look a little more deeply at this masterpiece.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Bartok's Miracle

I've heard from many corners that most great art is borne out of painful experience and it's something with which I completely disagree. Instead, I think art comes from emotional experiences that are wide in range, morality, and perspective. We have all heard music written just for the pleasure principle alone, or from virtually every emotion that our complex psyches can produce. But even those works written for the simple enjoyment of beauty usually draw inspiration at a deeper level from emotions that can come from many sources. Even more interesting to me are works that have many emotional layers drawn from multiple sources.

One such work is Bela Bartok's Miraculous Mandarin and I find myself completely fascinated by the sheer virtuosity of the writing and the emotional impact that these sounds create (I'm preparing the Suite right now). It's perhaps one of his greatest works and certainly in my mind a contender for one of the best of the 20th century. While not influential in the way the Rite of Spring has been, nor Wozzeck, or any number of other 'seminal' compositions, it has certainly been a score both musicologists and musicians have poured over with great interest, and beyond, one that has led listeners on a dark journey, yet one that is ultimately uplifting in a bizarre fashion.

This is what puzzles me: the source material that Bartok used was a 4 page lurid story by Melchior Lengyel, a radical Hungarian journalist and writer. This "pantomine grotesque: draws its inspiration not from pain, but from twisted passion as well. It tells the story of a young woman who is forced by three thugs to prostitute herself in order to lure potential men/victims into a room who they can then rob. She plays a seduction game with three men. The first two have nothing and are thrown out badly beaten. But the third, a Mandarin (a wealthy Chinese man), comes in and is fascinated by the girl. When the thugs rob him of his jewelry and money, they try to get rid of him by suffocation, then repeated stabbing, then by hanging him on a light fixture. When the lamp to which he is tied breaks and falls, he gets up, goes to the girl, and then finally takes delight in an embrace. With his longing satisfied, the Mandarin finally begins to bleed from all the abuse he has withstood and dies.

Pretty horrible stuff…

So I'm confused as to why I find myself absolutely enthralled by music that represents an idea that I abhor. As a result I have tried to figure out the process by which both I and countless others with a moral compass pointing in an opposite direction can embrace this sort of work.

I first have to understand Bartok's creative circumstances. If I think back to the time that he was composing (1918-1924) I find several striking aspects of his life that are salient. One is that he had just lived through World War I where millions of people died. His view of the world was upset by an upended power structure, and for him, the result of all this seemingly indiscriminate carnage led to the world's first fascist dictator, who took power in Hungary. At the same time cities were becoming industrial metropolises that were both creating wealth and an underbelly of crime, prostitution, and poverty. While Bartok was writing this score, there were gunshots he could hear outside his door.

At the same time he was fascinated not just by just folk music, as one of the first true ethnomusicologists, but also by music played in the emerging lower class. He felt there was something pure in expression when music revealed how people existed in poverty, in good and bad ways. It had nothing to do with any sort of posturing in his mind.

He was living in a time when Freud had been exploring repressed sexuality, which by all measure created many types of psychological problems. There were racy plays being written such as Lulu (which Berg later used for an opera) and Spring Awakening that were fascinating audiences. He must have been taken by these new powerful ideas that were coming out into the light, and this certainly could provide a type of inspiration that was much more impulsive and in line with the nature of folk expression - something unfiltered and unadulterated. Even then, sex sold.

Finally when one looks at the portrayal of the Mandarin, there are implicitly racist overtones that are offensive. However, Hungarians found a common thread between the barbaric nature of their history and that of the Chinese, combined with hyper intellectualism, so while the setting seems awful, in another way it represents what Bartok felt was a common base response shared between cultures, ultimately fueled by elemental passion.

So here is Bartok with all of these influences, putting them into amazingly descriptive sound, with a craft level that is astonishing, featuring all sorts of orchestral effects including chromatic scales, tremelos, trills, glissandi, cluster chords, mutes, percussive effects, all manner of string effects including quarter tones at one point, and fluttertonguing in the winds. Its orchestrational brilliance outshines most of the other scores I've looked at from this time period at the beginning of the 20th Century, and purely on a musical level, is breathtaking in effect.

Understanding where Bartok was when he was writing the music is helpful, because his response to much of what was happening in his life can still be contextualized today, with urban sprawl, cruelty, murder, abuse, and poverty around us every day. There's certainly a part of me that is looking to escape some of these terrible things, but another part wants to know and not ignore the difficulties others face. So to understand, sometimes one must dive into the experiences of others to feel their desperation, even it is truly at a distance. It's why we are many times attracted to movies that depict difficult things to see - it takes us out of our own lives and allows us to feel suffering, but without fear. Or why we work at soup kitchens, which if you have done so, will truly show how people exactly like you can end up in difficult circumstances.

While we are not in the mood for suffering every day, having the chance to understand a slice of history more deeply can be ultimately uplifting. How many films have we seen about the holocaust, lost love, grifters and thieves, people facing tough choices? Why is it that folks flock to see these movies, or go to art shows with similar material, but have a such a hard time accepting it in music?

I think the reason is that music can illuminate these challenging subjects in a way that goes to a deeper place of understanding, since it works on such an elementally emotional level. For me, this is what I find so compelling about The Miraculous Mandarin. It's like a film crafted at the absolute highest level, but one that takes me on a journey into darkness in a manner that is more personal and internal. At the end of the work, having traveled down this path, I feel moved by the pity and hatred I feel toward the thugs, the sadness I feel for the girl, and the pure passion that I see in the Mandarin that transcends what other humans can do to each other. The music creates a picture in my head that is at once captivating and repulsive. When I hear something that is purely beautiful, I have a basis on which to see it as such because of my exposure to works such as this.

It is true that I love comedies and laughter. But occasionally I find works of art from the dark side of human experience an extremely important part of my artistic diet. If you are not familiar with this masterpiece, I can recommend it to you enthusiastically, although in the same breath, it will not be a piece you go to every day. But occasionally, it will take you on a journey that is truly miraculous in nature.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

The Blessing of a New Year

As a New Year begins I tend to become reflective and grateful for simple gifts that surround me and those I love. Music is one of these without doubt - there is hardly a day that goes by where I am not touched by beautiful sounds at one point or another. There are many who feel this way, and you only have to look at the celebrations last night from around the world to see how music helps people start the New Year with renewed hope.

There are many great writers and musicians who have commented eloquently on music's role in our world, and I would like to share 10 of my favorite quotes as 2009 gets underway:

1) Music is the mediator between the spiritual and the sensual life.
Ludwig van Beethoven

2) I have my own particular sorrows, loves, delights; and you have yours. But sorrow, gladness, yearning, hope, love, belong to all of us, in all times and in all places. Music is the only means whereby we feel these emotions in their universality.
H.A. Overstreet

3) Music is love in search of a word.
Sidney Lanier

4) Music can noble hints impart,
Engender fury, kindle love,
With unsuspected eloquence can move,
And manage all the man with secret art.
Joseph Addison

5) Music is the movement of sound to reach the soul for the education of its virtue.

6) The earth has music for those who listen.
William Shakespeare

7) Music washes away from the soul the dust of everyday life.
Berthold Auerbach

8) Music is what feelings sound like.

9) Music is the poetry of the air.

10) Were it not for music, we might in these days say, the Beautiful is dead.
Benjamin Disraeli

The Beautiful is alive, isn't it? Even in face of unspeakable tragedy, I am always amazed by the resilence of the human spirit, from stories I read every day and from people who I'm so blessed to know.

I seem to be an optimist and am feeling that a world of wonderful possibilities awaits us all this coming year in spite of the tremendous challenges in every corner. My hope is that music can touch lives and be a healer as it has been for centuries, bringing people together, playing upon the best of our humanity in a time when the worst is too prevalent. From worst to first - it's possible - and music will be there helping us celebrate, commemorate, and remember the good that is within us all at our core.

Here's wishing you every blessing in 2009.