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Monday, January 7, 2013

Social Media and the Classical Musician

Your Web Presence

I just finished reading a blog by Gerald Klickstein, author of the Musician's Way, regarding the importance of musician's building websites to promote and sustain their career.  In the blog "Build a Website," Mr. Klickstein states  "All musicians need websites to present their work to the world and build relationships with fans."  While it is true that building a website can be helpful, I don't believe it is of paramount importance in today's market.  Building a presence via social media is much more important.  Let me explain.

You can build a gorgeous website with all the bells and whistles that Mr. Klickstein suggests and it can flounder in obscurity forever.  Unless you understand SEO (search engine optimization), SEM (search engine marketing), keywords, meta tags, meta descriptions, site maps and a multitude of other web specific technologies, your website will just be one of millions and millions of websites in the internet universe and every few people will ever see what you have created. 

Don't get me wrong, websites can be extremely useful, but only for connecting to people you have met personally.  You have to hand your business card to an individual directly and give a sales pitch to get them to follow up and take a look at what you have to offer on a web site.  (Suggestion:  Add a QR code to your card to allow them immediate access to your site via mobile device.)  If you already have performances lined up and are meeting lots of people face to face in the industry, then your website could be very useful. (But you could achieve the same results with a good social media profile page.)  However, if you think that lots of people you don't know will somehow magically visit your website, you are very mistaken.  Here is why....

Remember that thing called "SEO?"   Without SEO, the giant search engines, like Google, will never know you exist.  For example, type in the words "classical music" into google.  The first couple of items that show up are "paid" links that companies have paid google to place at the top of the list.  (For a term like "classical music" those links are quite pricey, by the way.)  After that you will have 262,000,000 links that are somehow related to the search term "classical music."  After the paid links, the rest of the links appear in order of relevance.  This relevance is determined by the meta tags, keywords, etc. that Google has found on your website.  And by the way, if you have not submitted a "site map" to Google, then good luck with them finding your site relevant.  SEO is so complex that there are companies who will manage this for you, but the fees will be hefty.*  You could manage your own SEO.  There are lots of great articles on the web about keywords, meta tags, etc.   But remember, if it was easy, there would not be big companies making millions of dollars a year out there offering to do it for you. 

Now, let me make the case for using social media to build your career and web presence.  Social media allows you to connect to both people who already know you and reach out to a new audience and build a following among people you have not yet met.  It requires very little understanding of technology and you don't have to worry about SEO, SEM, etc.   It is important, however,  to employ a "multi-level" marketing approach to achieve maximum success.  You have to establish your presence on the social media giants like Facebook, Twitter and Linkedin, but you must also create a presence in niche communities that are dedicated to music in general and classical music specifically.  Why?  Just like your web page will only be one of 260,000,000 in Google search results, you will only be one of 800,000,000 on Facebook.    When you join a niche community (hey since I built it, I recommend you become one of thousands instead of millions.  If the profile page for the community is well designed,  visitors can find a "clarinet player/teacher with a Master's degree in Music who lives in Colorado" with the click of a mouse.  In other words, your visibility goes way up in a niche community because the search is greatly narrowed to a very specific group of people with a common professional emphasis.  Of course, as the CEO of, I think our niche community is the best because we understand the classical music community and created a site to meet our specific needs.

Also, I can't emphasize enough the word "professional" when it comes to your social media presence on the web.  For most people, their Facebook profile is full of friends and family.  Do not mix business with personal in social media.  Make sure you create a separate page for your business life on Facebook.   The same with Twitter and Linkedin.  A professional social media campaign will not contain pictures or references to your kids, dogs, cats, vacations, etc.  

It is also extremely important to continuously work your social media outlets.  Again, the good news is that this takes no special technical expertise.  Just talk about your upcoming concerts, share your thoughts about your professional life and ask questions.  Do this on a weekly basis for best results.  Just one hour a week can make a big difference.  If you just create a profile and then never participate, your success will be extremely limited.  We made this a bit less time consuming  for you on because you can automatically link your Facebook page and your Twitter accounts.  Post your content on your page and it will simultaneously post on those accounts too.

Finally, there is the issue of balancing the needs of self-promotion via the internet and social media vs. going to rehearsals and spending time in the practice room.  Classical music organizations like schools, orchestras, etc. can also feel the sense of being overwhelmed by fulfilling their mission and now feeling the compelling need to stay on top of social media. is responding to this dilemma by offering social media management for classical musicians and organizations.  You can outsource your social media management to CMC and continue to keep your focus on what you do best.  For more information on this service, contact us at   To join our niche classical music community, go to  

(Caution:  there are two brands of SEO.  One is called "white hat" which represents the "good guys."  The other is called "black hat," which of course represents the "bad guys."  You can find "black hat" SEO very cheaply, in fact check your spam box and you will find lots of proposals.  However, once Google catches you trying to game using "black hat SEO" the system, your site will be blacklisted and your life on the web will be over.) 

Friday, January 4, 2013

For Young Violinists: Suggestions for your iTunes Gift Cards

I am often asked by parents "What recordings should my child be listening to?"  Here is my list for a "starter set" of recordings that I think every young violinist should be listening to by the age of 15.  This list is by no mean comprehensive, there are many fabulous artists and recordings that are not listed.  I tried to create a list that had a variety of violinists, both historical and contemporary.  Some selections are "mainstream" repertoire that students are most likely to learn in their high school years, other selections are more for inspiration.
Click on either the link or the image and you will be taken to a page where you can purchase these recordings in either CD or MP3 format from Amazon or iTunes.

Hilary Hahn:  Bach Partitas for solo violin

Hilary Hahn Bach
A serious must have for every young violinist.  One of the most well thought out interpretations and performances of this core violin repertoire ever recorded. I'm not a big fan of the tempo of the Allemande from the Partita in d minor, but the remainder of the album is exquisite, expecially the formidable Chaconne.  For variety and another wonderful take on Bach, I also recommend the Bach Partitas by Arthur Grumiaux.
Honestly, many middle school students might not find recordings of Bach exhilarating, but the importance of this repertoire in their development cannot be overstated.  I recommend introducting students to this repertoire via "background" music.  Play it in the car or in the house so that they pick it up by osmosis.

Hilary Hahn: Bach Violin Concerti

Hilary Hahn
Every violin student will eventually learn one of the Bach violin concerti.  Hilary Hahn performs with her usual clarity and precision.  For another option, try Anne Akiko-Myers latest album which also contains the concerto for 2 violins by Bach.
For other recordings by Hilary Hahn click here.

Vivaldi Seasons
Andrea Marcon, Giuliano Carmignola & Venice Baroque Orchestra
This the most recorded piece of violin repertoire in the world.  Every major artist has a recording of the Seasons.  I selected this particular recording because of the authenticity of the performance.  The Venice Baroque Orchestra obviously specializes in this kind of repertoire.  The strings are light and bouyant and this probably comes very close to how Vivaldi would have performed it himself.

Isaac Stern
Lalo: Symphonie Espagnole and Saint-Saëns: Violin Concerto No. 3, Zigeunerweisen, Op. 20 . (Note the $24.95 iTunes recording offers many additional concerti, while the Amazon version offers showpieces like Tzigane.)
No starter collection is complete without Isaac Stern.  Stern's phrasing is sublime and his technique is spot on. Students also get to hear the great Philadelphia Orchestra under the baton of Eugene Ormandy.  This is volume 8 from a series called a "Life in Music" that is a compilation of over 200 CD's of Stern's lifetime of recording.

Joshua Bell
The Barber violin concerto has to be one of the most beautiful pieces ever written for violin and the last movement certainly qualifies as one of the most challenging and thrilling.  This is a piece they will want to listen to over and over.  Nigun is one they will want to play in coming years and is considered "core" repertoire by many teachers.  It is, in fact, the required piece for the 2012 ASTA Competition.  Joshua Bell is accompanied on this album by David Zinman and the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra.

Young violinists everywhere owe Mr. Perlman a debt of gratitude for this recording.  It contains many of the pieces that young violinists perform during their middle school years and who could provide a better example than the legendary Itzhak Perlman?
Violin concerto in B minor, Op.35 by Oscar Reiding
Violin Concerto No.1 in A minor by Jean-Baptiste Accolay
Scène de ballet for violin & piano (or orchestra), Op 100 by de Beriot
Student Concerto for violin & orchestra No. 2 in G major, Op. 13 by Seitz
Concerto for violin & orchestra No. 22 in A minor by Giovanni Battista Viotti

Jascha Heifetz
Includes: Scottish Fantasy, Bach Chaconne, Tchaikovsky, Brahms, Glazunov and Sibelius violin Concerto
I recommend this recording because, well it is Heifetz and because it contains the "other" Bruch violin concerto, Scottish Fantasy an under appreciated piece of violin repertoire, in my opinion.  Also, it contains the Glazunov violin concerto, another underprogrammed concerto that is overshadowed by its cousin theTchaikovsky concerto.  I remember falling in love the the Glazunov concerto as a teen.  With 6 pillars of violin repertoire represented, this is a great buy.

Sarah Chang
This album contains so many pieces that young teens are sure to love.  They will want to return to this recording again and again.  Pieces like Bazzini's Dance of the Goblins, Dinicu's Hora Staccato and Kroll's Banjo and Fiddle.  It also contains a staple of many a young violinists repertoire, the Gluck Melodie.
If you want the more passionate, moody, brooding side of classical music encores, then try Sarah Chang's "Sweet Sorrow" which contains the famous Vitali Chaconne.

Violin Favourites and Virtuoso Showpieces

Joshua Bell
We return again to a Joshua Bell recording, this time with the showpiece genre.  This recording contains all the selections from his "Kreisler Album" like Praeludium and Allegro plus other hits like Carmen Fantasy and Scherzo-Tarentelle.

I picked this recording especially for the Mendelssohn violin concerto. Arthur Grumiaux is the epitomy of elegance and grace.  His sound is silky smooth and uniquely suited to this particular concerto. I am a big Grumiaux fan and often also recommend that my students listen to his Bach and Mozart recordings too.

Pamela Frank:  Mozart Violin Concerti

Pam Frank
My favorite all time recordings of the Mozart Violin Concerti.  Unfortunately many young violinists are not familiar with Pam Frank.  Truly one of the great violinists of this generation whose performance career was cut short by a hand injury.  Luckily she has proven to be as great a teacher as she was a performer, so her voice is living on through her students.  This is the most operatic of all the Mozart recordings.  The phrasing and warmth of her tone is second to none.  Plus, there are great cadenzas written by David Zinman, which I wish he would publish!

Vengerov: Bruch and Mendelssohn Violin Concerti

This is the last of my "serious" picks for young teens and this is the only album that I recommend that you only buy selected tracks.  Vengerov's Bruch concerto interpretation is fiery and sizzling.  I know this will be a bit of a controversial pick because his vibrato is almost over the top, but I think teens find this approach very compelling. Also, the Gewandhausorchester Leipzig with Kurt Masur does a fantastic job on this recording.  However, for the very reason I support the Bruch, I say "oh, no" to the Mendelssohn.  Vengerov's style and approach is just too much for the much more delicate Mendelssohn.  Stick to Grumiaux where this is concerned.

I know I have left of many stellar violinists and great recordings, but this list is just a way to get a basic start.  Students should absolutely also listen to any of the recordings of the artists on this list plus the other greats like David Oistrakh, Anne Sophie-Mutter, Yehudi Menuhin, Ivry Gitlis, Ida Haendel, Mischa Elman, Leonid Kogan, Nathan Milstein, Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg, Jaime Laredo and so many others.
I also encourage students to BUY these recordings.  Yes, I know you can watch many of these performances for free on YouTube, but if we don't support these artists by continuing to purchase their works, then these great artists will cease to have contracts with record companies, etc.........

Ok, after the teens have had a good education on the best of the mainstream, traditional offerings of classical violin repertoire, here is a list of some of the off the beaten path pieces.  So,
Just for fun....
Max Richter
This is a 2012 release.  Please listen to more mainstream Vivaldi Seasons recordings BEFORE listening to this one.  It helps you appreciate the deviations from the norm that were taken.  I like to describe this as what Vivaldi would sound like if he had been a New Age, Minimalist composer.

Nuttin But  Stringz
The Escobar brothers combine the classical sound of the violin with Pop, R&B and Hip-hop.

Time for Three, We Just Burned This For You!

Time for Three
The first of the releases from Time For Three, this album contains decidedly non-classical interpretations of classical hits that students frequently learn,  like the first movement of the Concerto for 2 Violins in d minor by Bach, Csardas by Monti and Brahms' Hungarian Dance No. 5.  Also, contains Ashokan Farewell, Blackbird and Orange Blossom Special.

Mark O'Connor,  The Fiddle Concerto

Mark O'Connor
This recording was done with the Concordia Orchestra conducted by Marin Alsop.  Unfortunately, this does not seem to be available on iTunes, but is available in both CD and MP3 format on Amazon.  Mark O'Connor blends old world classical traditions with a uniquely American style.

Another group where American fiddle meets rock meets classical.  Enjoy pieces like Mountain Spring, Old Joe Clark and Calypso Jam.  Barrage has published all these pieces so young violinists can learn to play these too.  To fully appreciate Barrage, one has to see them live in concert.

About the author:
Phyllis FreemanPhyllis Freeman has been teaching pre-college violin and viola students for 30 years.  She is currently the director of the Maryland Talent Education Center and principal viola of the Maryland Symphony Orchestra and a section member of the National Philharmonic.  Ms. Freeman is the founder and creator of 

The Potter Violin Company, premier retailer of exceptional violins, violas, cellos and basses.  Also, featuring a great selection of Mark Wood electric string instruments.
Potter Violin Company

Christmas Without Music?

Are you enjoying live music this Christmas?  Does a string quartet play in your church at midnight on Christmas Eve or have you attended a Messiah or Nutcracker performance?   If so, consider thanking your local performing arts organizations with a financial contribution.

Let me explain why. Many people in the United States only experience live music performed by highly trained classical musicians during the holiday season.  Many never set foot in a concert hall during the rest of the year, if at all.  I suspect that many take for granted that the music they love and the musical traditions they share their family will be available year after year. What would the season be like without performances of the Messiah, Nutcracker and Christmas carols at Christmas Eve services in churches?  Does the average American realize that without the local symphonies, music schools and other performing arts institutions, none of this holiday music would exist?
Let me explain.  Professional musicians could not possibly exist on the income they make from performing just for Christmas events.  Musicians have families, mortgages and other financial obligations just like everyone.  (And their training cost a fortune.*) If they could not sustain themselves as musicians year round, then they would be forced to seek employment in other fields.  Being a professional musician is very much like being a professional athlete.  A musician must stay in shape in order to maintain their level of expertise and skill.  I can't imagine many musicians would maintain a regular practice schedule on top of a full time job in an outside field, for the little bit of money that could be made during the Christmas season.  Serious financial stability comes from the year round work musicians have with symphonies and as music teachers.
So this season, as you enjoy a midnight church service, a Nutcracker, a Messiah, please give consideration to making a financial contribution to your local music institutions so that musicians can maintain year round employment and will be able to remain in the profession.  Otherwise, Christmas Eve may truly become "the day the music died."

P.S. Just a note on what it takes to become a highly skilled professional classical musician.  Take your average violinist.  They started lessons at the age of 5 or 6.  By the time they are 18 years old, on average, a parent has invested at least $60,000 to $100,000 (private lessons, instrument, summer camps, orchestra, accompanists, etc.)  in their child's musical training.  And that figure is just a minimum for a student who has even a glimmer of hope of being accepted into a major university of conservatory in order to earn a Bachelor of Music degree.  (Note:  most musicians do not stop with a Bachelor's degree, most have Master's and many have Doctorates.)  Add in at least 6 years of college level training, and literally 30,000-40,000 hours of practicing by the age of 20.  So what you see on Christmas Eve is a result of an enormous amount of "backend" work and expense.
 About the author:   Phyllis Freeman is the principal viola of the Maryland Symphony Orchestra and a section viola with the National Philharmonic.  She is also the director of the Maryland Talent Education Center and the CEO of  Visit her profile at

Friday, December 16, 2011

Great Gifts for Classical Musicians

Click on links or images to purchase.

Nominated for 2012  Grammy for Best Opera Recording
 DVD format for $22.49

These tourte-style string mutes are handcrafted with authentic Swarovski crystals.
$25 for  violin/viola or $40 for cello
Mutes come in Water (Palette of Blues), Fire (Palette of Reds), and Night Sky (Diamond & Black Diamond).

Miles Davis Trumpet High Performance Ear Phones
Monster markets the Trumpets as “musicians’ headphones.”

Why Mahler?: How One Man and Ten Symphonies Changed Our World

Newest book from Norman Lebrecht
$11.99 for Nook or Kindle Editions


Choose from this selection of 2012 Grammy nominated albums!
Click on images or links to purchase.

CSO Resound - Chicago Symphony Orchestra Brass Live


Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra, Nicholas McGegan

Piano Concerto No. 2 In C Minor, Op. 18

Rhapsody On A Theme Of Paganini


Natalie Dessay with the Le Concert D`Astrée

For a complete list of all 2012 Classical Grammy Nominees, click here.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Students who feel "Entitled"

I just read a great commentary in the Chronicle of Higher Education by Elayne Clift called "From Students, a Misplaced Sense of Entitlement."  In this op ed piece she bemoans "The sad thing is, I'm not alone. Every college teacher I know is bemoaning the same kind of thing. Whether it's rude behavior, lack of intellectual rigor, or both, we are all struggling with the same frightening decline in student performance and academic standards at institutions of higher learning. A sense of entitlement now pervades the academy, excellence be damned."

I have to say I found this article very enlightening because as a violin teacher, I really never encounter this attitude from students.  I started wondering why I (and to the best of my knowledge, my colleagues) am not dealing with this issue as a teacher.  Could it be that there is something inherent in the training that musicians receive that nips this problem in the bud?  In fact, it has been my experience over the past 25 years, that students want us to raise expectations and be even more demanding.

Isn't it ironic that at a time when funding for the performing arts is being slashed that the values that mainstream professors find lacking in their students are so prevalent in the arts community?   Could it be that the performing arts has more to offer than just "entertainment?"  Could it be that the virtues of humility, compassion, discipline are the philosophical foundations of the arts?  Here is an interesting vignette....  A parent of one of my students once remarked that the only thing that came close to the rigors and demands of the training her daughter was receiving to become a top notch violinist, was the 4 years she herself spent as a midshipman at the Naval Academy in Annapolis in the 1980's. 

So maybe, if we want to stop raising a generation of wimpy, entitled brats, we should make every child learn to play an instrument at a proficient level.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

El Sistema in the US

In a recent NPR interview, Richard Kessler (executive directory of New York City's Center for Arts Education) stated the following: 

"El Sistema as it is in Venezuela will never happen in the United States. It's not possible for the program to be embraced by the social service and child welfare agencies, and be connected to a national health care system that we don't have. Our government does not fund the arts on that kind of level, on that sort of basis. So what happens is El Sistema has to be translated into something that's American and I think in the translation, generally speaking, it doesn't look very different than many very good youth orchestra programs."

As a teacher who is primarily working with pre-college string students, I have been asking a question about "El Sistema" for several years and I have not received a satisfactory answer.  Can someone tell me if El Sistema is anything more than just the idea of taking at risk kids and giving them music instruction for free on a daily basis?  Is there a "method" to the teaching?  Are there materials, like in the Suzuki method?  Is there a philosophical foundation?  Is there a training system for teachers?

I have to agree with Richard Kessler.  As far as I can tell, "El Sistema", which as far as I can tell, means "give kids consistent, free music instruction",  has been alive and well for decades in the US, long before it was ever conceived of in Venezuela.  Just look to the D.C. Youth Orchestra program, which was founded in 1960, as a model.

                                                             D.C Youth Orchestra performing at the White House in the 1970's

It worked because the D.C. public schools worked in partnership with the founder, Lyn McLain, and provided a facility and financial support.  The major obstacle to providing comprehensive music instruction to millions of US children is a lack of cooperation and support from the American public school system.  We don't need to rely on "national health care systems."  We need facilities in which to provide instruction.  Such facilities already exist in the form of public schools which are paid for with taxpayer money.  Removing the cost of paying for use of a building goes a long way to eliminating much of the cost of providing "universal" music education.  Break the monopoly that public schools have on the buildings that should be seen as "community centers" and open up the buildings to after school educational programs, both in the "for-profit" and "non-profit" domains.  Remove the barriers to local private studio teachers having access to public facilities.  Let's go a step further and remove the monopoly "education majors" have on public school teaching jobs.  Open up the public schools to music performance majors and allow the buildings to be utilized by non-public school entities and you will go a long way towards providing a high quality, affordable music education to many more American children.  (see Orchkids Program too)

Anyway, I welcome responses regarding the questions I posed about the nature of "El Sistema."  I'm still wondering what it is.  Method, Philosphy, Idea?

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Tiger Mother

I just finished the book "Battle Hymn of a Tiger Mother" and wanted to recommend that parents read it.  Amy Chua spends much of the book discussing her relationship with her younger daughter and her violin lessons.  While her parenting style is definitely harsh by Western Standards, she does bring up an interesting philosophical question about happiness.  Should we be concerned about how "happy" a child is while practicing the violin or focus on future state of happiness that is attained through a successful outcome as the result of the practicing?