The Official Blog of

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Detroit, think outside the box!

Ok, I have spent the last two blogs questioning the wisdom of musicians going on strike.  Now I would like to be a bit more productive and offer some possible solutions.  I agree that orchestras around the country are looking to see the outcome of the Detroit strike, but not for the reasons you might think.  I am going to take an optimistic view and assume that they are watching what happens to see if Detroit can come up with any brilliant ideas that will help them solve their economic woes too.

First, let's stop the ongoing "negotiations" over salary with all symphony orchestras in the country.  I have never been able to figure out why all non-profits in the country haven't done what US federal government workers have worked out with their employer.  In other words, just tie all raises (federal gov. workers never take pay cuts) to the same cost of living index that the federal government uses for their employees.  If federal government workers deserve a 2% raise, then so does everyone else in the non-profit sector.  Hey, it might even have a side benefit of making everyone in the country pay more attention to the expanding federal payroll.  In order to accommodate regional economic disparities, just use a comparison to public school teacher's salaries in any local jurisdiction.  If a public school teacher in Michigan makes 20% less than teachers in Maryland, then adjust symphony salaries accordingly.

Second, look at operating budgets based on percentages.  The American Symphony Orchestra League has detailed charts and graphs that show averages of how much is spent on administrative staff, operating costs, personnel, advertising/marketing, etc.  They do this for orchestras in every economic niche so that orchestras could compare apples to apples.  For example, an orchestra that operates on a $1.5 million can compare their percentages to other orchestras in the same tier.  If an orchestra is way out of line in comparison to other similar orchestras then figure out who is at fault and fire them.

Now, stop thinking in cash only terms.  Here are some examples.  All musicians need reliable cars to do their job.  We tend towards Toyota and Honda because of the longevity and reliability of the vehicles.  What if, instead of going to GM and Chrysler and asking for cash they don't have, the Detroit Symphony instead asked them for a car for every musician?  This is a win/win.  What a great advertising opportunity for car manufactures. (I would photograph the Detroit musicians parking lot and paste it in every classical music related publication possible.)  GM and Chrysler could promote their products into a market that has abandoned them and Detroit musicians could ditch a car payment.  ($200-500/month)

Repeat this concept for everything from dry cleaning to cell phones.  Give Detroit symphony musicians special discount cards for participating merchants.  Businesses may be cash poor right now, but they might be willing to give a 15% discount to musicians.  Again, a win/win on both sides.  Struggling businesses gain a new customer base, customer loyalty and help their community while musicians cut their expenses.

As a final added incentive, the citizens of Detroit (and all of Michigan) need to really consider what is lost if the symphony cannot retain these extraordinary musicians.  It is not just the economic contributions that a symphony makes to a region.  Remember, most of these musicians are also probably working as private studio teachers, helping another generation reap the many benefits of classical music training.  Most of them are also married, so not only do you lose the musician, you lose the spouse's job and economic contribution to the city.  Now add their children into the mix, as well as relatives who visit for holidays, etc. and you can see the economic impact in ever widening circles.

Why not give it a try?  Detroit has everything to gain by keeping this workforce in Detroit.  This is your last chance.  If the cultural institutions go under, then Detroit might as well resign itself to becoming a ghost town of America's industrial past.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Best Christmas Sheet Music for String Students

Parents and Teachers,
Performing holiday music for friends, relatives and in church services is a wonderful way to motivate your child to practice and help them build a sense of pride in their accomplishments. Playing holiday tunes is also a wonderful way for students to develop better reading skills.   Here are our suggestions for the best Christmas sheet music with links to purchase.

Suzuki Late book 1 students

Christmas and Chanukah Ensembles.  This collection of 23 holiday favorites will not only motivate beginning string students in the classroom, but will also encourage home chamber music sessions. The flexible format allows the book to be used with any combination of instruments, from a solo player with piano accompaniment to a full string ensemble. Correlated with specific pages in the Strictly Strings method.  $6.95

Christmas and Chanukah Ensembles for violin
Christmas and Chanukah Ensembles for viola
Christmas and Chanukah Ensembles for cello

Suzuki book 2/3 students

Christmas Kaleidoscope, vol. 1 by Robert Frost.  Orchestral Collection or  Ensemble. This collection is in friendly keys and is written in score form for 3 violins (or 3 celli or violas)  The score format can be a bit of a problem for new readers but the font size is large and usually children can easily adjust.  The great thing about this collection is that it can be played as a solo, duet, trio or with a single instrument and piano. (you must purchase the piano accomp. part)  The parts are interchangeable, so the cello parts can combine with violin or viola parts.  $3.95

Suzuki book 3 students

Christmas Kaleidoscope, vol. 2 by Robert Frost.  Orchestral Collection or  Ensemble.  See description for volume 1.  Keys become a bit more challenging for strings (flats) and more complex rhythms and meters.  $3.95

 My Very Best Christmas (17 Violin Solos, Duets and a Play-Along CD on Christmas favorites) Arranged by Karen Khanagov. Violin songbook and accompaniment CD for violin solo (or duet) and piano accompaniment. Beginning. 82 pages. Published by Mel Bay Publications Inc.  $15.96 includes piano part and CD acccomp.
My Very Best Christmas, violin (piano part and CD included)
My Very Best Christmas, viola (piano part and CD included)
My Very Best Christmas, cello (piano part and CD included)

Suzuki book 4 and up

Festive Strings for Ensemble arranged by Joanne Martin. Published by Alfred Music Publishing $6.95
Festive Strings is a collection of well-known Christmas and Chanukah melodies arranged to meet the needs of individuals, groups and orchestras. In order to provide flexibility, the collection is available in a number of instrumentations, all of which are compatible with each other. Accessible keys have been used and shifting is kept to a minimum. Titles are: Jingle Bells in D Major * Joy to the World * Chanukah * Away in a Manger * Jolly Old Saint Nicholas * God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen * S'Vivon * Jingle Bells in A Major * Lo, How a Rose * O Christmas Tree.
Festive Strings, piano accomp.

More Festive Strings is a collection of well-known Christmas and Chanukah melodies arranged to meet the needs of individuals, groups and orchestras. In order to provide flexibility, the collection is available in a number of instrumentations, all of which are compatible with each other. Accessible keys have been used and shifting is kept to a minimum. Titles are: O Chanukah * Angels We Have Heard on High * We Three Kings * Silent Night in D Major * We Wish You a Merry Christmas * O Come All Ye Faithful * Dreydl * Silent Night in G Major * Good King Wenceslas * What Child Is This (Greensleeves).

Monday, November 22, 2010

Reason #45,692 that Classical Music is important

I just finished reading Robert Sternberg's op ed article in the Washington Post called "College Admissions, beyond the No. 2 Pencil."  In it, he discusses how colleges could improve their selection process by looking beyond SAT's and high school grades.  As a professional musician and music teacher, I was thrilled to see that he was advocating that schools look for qualities that musical training nurtures in children.

As a bit of background info., in 1997, Dr. Steinberg proposed a theory of "successful intelligence, based on the idea that people are meaningfully intelligent only to the extent that they can formulate and achieve their goals by synthesizing their creative, analytical and practical skills and their wisdom. People need creative skills to generate new ideas, analytical skills to determine if they are good ideas, practical skills to implement their ideas and wisdom to ensure that their ideas help achieve a common good." During his tenure as dean of the college of Arts and Sciences at Tufts Univ., he added optional questions to admissions applications that "were designed to assess creative, analytical and practical skills and general wisdom."  Using well trained adjudicators and "well-developed scoring rubrics," he has found that these types of questions (like "What if the Nazi's had won WW2?) "helped forcast which students would shine as active citizens and leaders on campus and virtually eliminated the admissions edge enjoyed by some ethnic groups."

Even though I always assert that the primary reason for a strong arts education has to do with esoteric notions like "enhancing the quality and meaning and life", I still will speak out on the intellectual benefits, if it helps people eventually arrive at a higher level of consciousness regarding the need for classical music in the lives of children.  (As an interesting side note, I just want to say that I have never seen any professional classical musician or music teacher reading or even discussing Rick Warren's "The Purpose Driven Life."   We would be more likely to read something called "My Life is so filled with Purpose, I need 40 hour days.")

I ask you, what could be better than the consistent study of music during the course of childhood to develop the "beyond the grades and test scores" qualities that our society needs?  Science has proven that the corpus callosum is actually 15 percent larger in adults who started music lessons before the age of eight than in those who started later.  In other words, in the brains of these children the right side of the brain (creative) has better communication with the left side (analytical) and vice versa.  For a great book that goes into much more detail, but is still comprehensible to the non-scientist, try Robert Jourdain's "Music, the Brain and Ecstacy."

Musicians must constantly utilize creative thinking, (how should I shape the phrase, what is the feeling of this music), analytical thinking (what key is this piece in, how many quarter notes are in a whole note), practical skills (tuning the instrument, moving fingers or breathing correctly), and general wisdom (Bach was born in 1685 and wrote during the Baroque era).  Better yet, musicians are using these aspects of the mind simultaneously and interdependently.  

If you have any doubt that music builds the mind and can change the world, please read Shinichi Suzuki's autobiography called "Nurtured by Love"  In this book, Suzuki tells the story of a dinner party he attended in Germany where he had a conversation with Albert Einstein.  Einstein told Dr. Suzuki, that he believed that his study of the violin trained his mind in a way that allowed him to discover the theory of relativity. 

Meanwhile, college bound high school students, be sure to highlight your musical training on your college applications.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Detroit Symphony Strike, part 2

What about "Detroit's Economic Crisis" is difficult for musicians to understand?  I'm not clear as to why the Detroit Symphony musicians think that Detroit can continue to sustain a world class orchestra.  There is an excellent blog written on Sept. 1, 2010 by Austin McCoy called "Detroit: the forgotten center of crisis and hope."  In it Mr. Austin relates the following statistics.

Detroit has gone from being known as the “arsenal of democracy” to the poster child for government disinvestment, deindustrialization, and capital/white flight. All of these factors contributed to the city’s inability to adjust to broader economic restructuring.[iv] Detroit has lost almost half of its population between 1950 and 2002.[v] According to sociologist William Julius Wilson, the city shed 51 percent of its manufacturing jobs between 1967 and 1987.[vi] 

..less than 20 percent of the jobs are now located within three miles of the city center.”[vii] This explains why one notices that the central business district resembles a virtual ghost town after business hours.....Detroit has also closed almost half of its schools since 2005....

Now, couple this bleak data with the recent bailout of GM and Chrysler and I'm not sure how the Detroit Symphony musicians can justify or even imagine maintaining their $100,000/year plus salaries.  I'm sure the auto industry in Detroit has been a generous benefactor of the symphony in years past, but I can't imagine the public relations nightmare that would ensue if they continued this tradition after the recent federal bailout.  Explaining how they can give money away after a federal bailout would be cause for another tough round of testifying before a Senate committee in Washington.  

Let me be clear, musicians in world class orchestras should be paid a minimum of $100,000/year.  Becoming a professional musician is a long, arduous and very expensive process.  However, world class orchestras reside in world class cities, a title that Detroit can no longer lay a claim to holding.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Economic Reality Check for Musicians

The recent strike held by Detroit Symphony musicians brings a flood of thoughts to my mind.  I share these ideas constantly with my colleagues, but now I think it is time to go beyond the circle of friends who have been traditionally subjected to my "musings."

Before I begin, let me preface these thoughts with a notification that I am a professional musician in the Washington DC area.  I am a union member (but not by choice) and I am currently exhausted from a run-out concert that had me out until 1am last night and I am pumping myself up with caffeine in an effort to pull myself together for another performance tonight.  In short, I am in the trenches too and not delivering this sermon from some lofty podium or living some elite life that is untouched by the economic realities of life as a classical musician.

Ok, here it goes.....I have never been able to wrap my mind around the concept of musicians having a "strike."  To me it is the most self-destructive action any musician can ever undertake.  I was going to school in Baltimore while the Baltimore Symphony strike was occurring in 1989-1990 and to this day I believe that they have never fully recovered from the damage that was done to the orchestra during that strike.

Let's just start with "economics 101."

Let's say a musician in an orchestra is making $100,000/year from their orchestra salary.  If they go on strike for 6 months, they loose $50,000 worth of income.  (Note, I understand they get union subsidies during this strike, but that is the same as receiving an insurance payout.  Basically, you are just getting back what you have paid in over the years, so it is a break even proposition at best.)  If the strike is not advocating a raise, but just a maintenance of salary, it will take 10 years for an individual musician to recoup the income that was lost over 6 months, if indeed it is ever recovered.

Meanwhile, the strike has also cost the orchestra dearly in terms of public relations, fund raising opportunities, corporate support, not to mention the rancor and ill will that is generated behind the scenes between board members, the administration and even within the ranks of the musicians themselves.  In short, the strike just made it astronomically more difficult to achieve the very thing the musicians were demanding in the first place, namely long term economic security. 

I've also never understood the attitude from musicians that generates the statement "They" won't give us more money (or whatever is being negotiated).  Who is "they?"  Could they be talking about the board members who have volunteered and usually pay a fee for the privilege of trying to support an important community institution?  Remember that orchestras are not-for-profit endeavors.  In other words, when the workers are denied a raise, the "extra" money that is left over, does not go into the pockets of stockholders.  No one derives a benefit from not giving the musicians more money.  I cannot believe that any board member wants to have their name associated with economic or artistic failure of the organization they are supporting.  They are usually on the board because they are leaders in some segment of the for-profit world and understand the benefit of the institution to the community.  These are people who are unfamiliar with failure and do not like that word associated with their name and reputation.

I don't think the "they" is the administration either.  In the organizations that I work for, the administrative staff usually takes the first hit and suffers much earlier than the musicians.  They lose jobs, take pay cuts, etc. before the musicians are ever asked to sacrifice.   Since they are the first to go and the first to suffer, they have a vested interest in keeping the organization economically healthy.  That is not to say that there is not sometimes incompetency in administration, but hopefully the board is vigilant and will address that issue.  

I have much more to say on this subject and will continue to do so in the coming days, but since this is a blog and not a dissertation, I will stop here for now.  I welcome feedback and dialogue on this topic as long as it doesn't result in name calling and personal insults.  Let's keep it civil and useful. 

Monday, October 4, 2010

Classical Music Identity Crisis

Just read Anne Midgette's article about "Classical Crossover"  and it speaks to an issue that most classical musicians and the people who love classical music are struggling with for the past decade.  Namely, how do we now define classical music?  For years, recording labels have padded classical music sales figures by mixing in the sales from Broadway showtune albums, but I doubt there are many of us within the classical music industry who would really consider the theme from "Cats" as part of our genre. 
Now comes Renee Fleming with her new album "Dark Horse" and Sting with "Symphonicities."  Do we invite them in?  My mind immediately says "yes" to Renee Fleming, because, well, she is Renee Fleming and she is "one of us," so therefore it has to be "classical." The same goes for Yo Yo Ma.   I'm not so sure about Sting, however.   Andrea Bocelli gets a "maybe" in my book.  Yes, he does sing opera, but I never thought he was actually that good at it.  I think his success grew out of his appeal to the non-classical music audience, so I am left feeling skeptical.

Mark O'Connor is another artist who leaves me confused.  I have always felt a little naughty and guilty for my attraction to his music.  Two things tend to help me justify him as an genuine "classical music" artist.  First, he composes works for full symphony orchestras.  (This tends to justify my inclusion of Sting into our club, too).  Writing a composition for a symphony that includes multiple movements which are tied together in some meaningful manner is no small feat.  Mark O'Connor's album "Midnight on the Water" also helped me welcome him into the pantheon of classical music composers.  While it still has pieces like "River Out Back", it also has lots of Caprices.  The word "Caprice" is derived from the Italian word "Cappricio" which was first used in 1665, according to Webster's dictionary.  Any music that has it's roots in the year 1665 has to be classical.

Then there are classical musicians like Nigel Kennedy and Nick Kendall (Time for Three) who can take hard core classical music (Vivaldi's Seasons and Bach's Concerto for Two Violins in d minor, respectively) and somehow make them seem like pop music.  Talk about total genre identification confusion.....

So, I have come up my own personal criteria for how to define what is classical music.
1) Who is performing it?  Did they spend their first 10 years of their career on stage at Carnegie Hall or in nightclubs?
2) Have they undergone the rigorous, grueling, intense, often demoralizing, formal training at a highly recognized school of music?  (Hey I put in my years in music boot camp, and I'm not letting anyone else in unless they have suffered as I have.)
3) Question #2 among classical musicians, invevitably leads to Question #3, which is "who is your teacher?"  If you don't understand this question, then you are not a classical musician and neither is your music.
4) Does the music make money?  If the answer is "yes", then questions 1, 2 and 3 are now irrelevant and you are welcome into the classical music genre.

If you have comments, please share!

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Too Good to Be True? Rockville Restaurant Week: October 4th - 10th!

During the National Philharmonic Orchestra’s busy winter season starting in early October at Strathmore Hall, 100 or so musicians begin foraging for fine grub in the brief couple of hours between the end of early evening rehearsals and that night’s performances (you know who we, er, you are). 
And the logics of geography bring us to one of Maryland’s finest culinary centers -- Rockville! We have enjoyed many a meal at exciting restaurants like Amina Thai and Pho, and now it seems like the Chamber of Commerce gods are smiling on we humble classical musicians in the coming weeks.
From October 4 through October 10, the Rockville Chamber of Commerce is presenting Rockville Restaurant Week with “special prix-fixe menus, priced at either $8 lunch/$15 for dinner or $10 lunch/$25 dinner, and 31 restaurants to choose from.” Yum. 
Their special Restaurant Week website is at
See you there! 

Friday, September 17, 2010

Always Room 4 Cello

At we search the internet for the best in classical music video, so you won't have to!  Our goal is to create a safe haven where students, parents, teachers, classical music fans can wander and discover fun, as well as, useful video of classical music performances, masterclasses, lessons and even comedy.  The video "Always Room 4 Cello" is an excellent example of what we want visitors to experience in The City.  This highly creative and entertaining video contains all the things that cello teachers constantly tell students to remember, but in a rap style.  As  parent (and teacher) this one made me laugh out loud.  Very motivating for cellists of all ages and the messages might even stick with young students who give it a listen.

To see the latest video that has been added to the site just go to , and scroll down the page.  Or click on the "Movie Theater" icon in the colorful city map and then choose from dozens of "Theaters."  Only the best, highest quality video is allowed to take up residence in the city. Any concert footage you see, represents the best of the genre.  No sloppy camera work or poor sound quality.  We also offer lots of exclusive video that can only be found in   For a taste of some of this exclusive footage visit the page for the National Philharmonic and watch masterclass footage and interviews of great artists like Soovin Kim and Nic Kendall.

If you have a video that you think meets our standards and should be showing in the theaters, let us know by clicking here.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

To our visitors

I wanted to take a moment to say how much we here at appreciate the interest and loyalty you have demonstrated with respect to our project. 

When we started this 3 years ago, we had no idea what to expect and what sort of impact we might make within the classical music community. What was then the basis for our "master plan," has since evolved in ways no one could have anticipated. We knew we wanted to be a resource of valuable information, but we also wanted to try to bring musicians together and connect with each other to keep abreast of personal and professional developments, needs and activities. Your emails, calls and even stopping me after a performance or on the street to mention CMC has been very gratifying. 

I also wanted to let the music-related businesses know that we have just successfully developed and uploaded the information many of you have requested regarding sponsorship opportunities on the website. We gave this issue a great deal of thought, and as with any online publication or community, such sponsorships are the most viable way to keep operating. Please know, however -- to you potential business and organization sponsors and musician and music fan readers -- that we intend to keep a pretty tight reign on what is allowed on the site. If it does not directly impact or provide goods and services of interest to the classical music community, we will likely recommend other websites for you to consider. CMC is run by classical musicians for classical musicians and those interested in classical music, and blinking sponsorship spots for the Ronco Pocket Fisherman, as fine a product as I'm sure it is, will not be seen here. (Although we have done a great deal of research, and through my own industry knowledge, decided we would be remiss if we did not permit the inclusion of the cars we drive, the OTC pain relievers we take for our tortured fingers and joints and the CPA, travel, insurance and other services we need. So, businesses and organizations, I encourage you to contact us if you would like to reach this highly specialized and important group. And musicians and other readers, I encourage you to consider working with and patronizing our sponsors. This is your community.)

And finally, I just wanted to add that one of the accomplishments of which we are the most proud is our commitment to and zero tolerance policy of anything that is not children and family friendly. Please know that we are vigilant about protecting the integrity and content of If you see something that may be inappropriate, contact me immediately at It will be removed and permanently resolved immediately. 

Thank you again, everyone. Please look for continued growth, greater ease of use and increased interesting and relevant content and resource information. 

"To talk well and eloquently is a very great art, but that an equally great one is to know the right moment to stop."
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart


Phyllis Freeman, Publisher

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Types of Strings

Here is a very useful explanation of the different types of strings courtesy of

Most strings are offered in thin, medium, and thick gauges.  A player may choose various gauges to enhance different types of playing, to create a certain instrument sound, or other possible reasons.  Most players use medium gauge strings. Pirastro Eudoxa and Olive strings are available in very specific gauges that are measured in “Pirastro Measure” numbers.  The gauge numbers indicate the thickness of the strings in millimeters multiplied by 20.  The bigger the number, the thicker the string.

Thin: Dolce, Weich, Soft or Light
Thin-gauged strings are generally used by players who are more concerned with a clear beautiful sound when the instrument is played softly. Thin strings are not necessarily softer in volume, they just facilitate soft playing.  Adversely, they generally do not respond well when played very loudly.

Medium:  Mittle
Most players use a medium gauge string.  Medium-gauge strings are generally sufficient on most instruments for any kind of playing style.

Thick: Forte, Stark, Orchestra, or Strong
Thick gauged strings are preferred by players who use more weight in their bow strokes and who do a lot of playing where increased volume is needed.  Thick strings are not necessarily louder in volume, but they do facilitate loud playing.  They generally do not respond well when played softly.

Suggestion for Parents of Cellists

Besides my life as a teacher, performer, arts administrator and CEO of, I also am a parent to three children.  My youngest one is a cellist who started middle school this year.  My older two children played viola and violin and I used to just rent a second instrument for them to use at school, in order to avoid A) having to remember to take an instrument every other day and B) avoid taking a string instrument on the bus.   Renting a cello, however, is about twice as expensive as renting a violin or viola and it turns out that the middle school has a fleet of 3/4 size cellos.  I decided to take the chance and let my 11 year old spend  1 1/2 hours every other day playing what might be an instrument of questionable quality.  I was worried about what it might do to her technical skills (which we are always working on) to play an instrument that might have too much string tension, poor strings, etc.  I spoke to the orchestra teacher about my concerns and he assured me that even though the instruments were not great, they were okay.   He did say that the cello bows were pretty bad, which gave me an idea.  I decided to go ahead and purchase a 3/4 size carbon fiber Cadenza 301 cello bow for her to use at school.  The bows are very even and stable and she will just keep it at school, so the durability of a carbon bow is a big plus for anything that is used in a middle school classroom.

For anyone out there who is interested in doing the same, I recommend this 20% off sale from Prodigy Instruments.  Shipping is free, so even with tax, I was able to purchase a 3/4 size Cadenza bow for at total of $122.96.  I also figure that when she outgrows the 3/4 size bow, I can just donate it to the school and get a tax deduction, which further lowers the actual "cost" of the bow.  Even better, the school now has a great cello bow for student to use for years to come.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Opera in the Outfield, Even Better than Baseball

The Washington National Opera will once again be providing thousands of people the opportunity to see great opera for free in a most unusual venue, Nationals Park.  I have personally taken many teenage violin students to this annual event and they have come away big opera fans.  If you have never been to an opera, this is a great way to start.  It is relaxed, casual, FREE and you can eat hot dogs and drink beer while you watch the opera on the enormous screen.  You can even spread a blanket in the outfield where children have room to wiggle.  Personally, I find some comfort in the notion that the sound of opera is wafting out across DC courtesy of the PA system in Nationals Park.   This year's opera is Verdi's "Masked Ball" which is simulcast live from the Kennedy Center.  Best of all, this event is free thanks to Target and the M&M Mars Company.

Usually the event has been held after dark on a Saturday evening, which makes the screen images bright and crisp.  I'm wondering how the 2:00pm start time on Sunday afternoon (Sept. 19th) will affect the experience.  The crowd size had increased dramatically last year, from previous years, so the advanced reservations are probably a good idea.  A big thumbs up on this event!

Salvatore Licitra as King Gustavus III
Luca Salsi as Count Anckarström, the King’s best friend and advisor
Tamara Wilson as Amelia, Anckarström’s wife and Gustavus’ secret love
Micaëla Oeste as Oscar, a page in Gustavus’ court
Elena Manistina as Mam’zelle Arvidson, a fortune teller
Kenneth Kellogg and John Marcus Bindel as Count Ribbing and Count Horn, conspirators against the crown
Conductor………………………………Daniele Callegari*
Director………………………………James Robinson*
Set Design………………………………Allen Moyer
Costume Design………………………………James Schuette*

You can make reservations by clicking here.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

ZING! Go the strings of my tot.


How to find a good string instrument for your child.

This blog is by Phyllis Freeman

You (or your child) has decided that they could benefit from learning to play violin, viola, cello or string bass. Congratulations, and we welcome you to an exciting and rewarding world of music making.

One of the first questions that may immediately come to mind as you begin this journey is "Where do I get a quality instrument?" Finding a first instrument that is responsive and has a beautiful sound is a critical first step when learning to play a string instrument. This is especially true when procuring an instrument for a child. Here are a couple of guidelines:

1) Find a reputable string instrument dealer. If you walk in the door of the shop and see flutes, drums or trumpets, immediately turn and leave. String instruments are a specialty item and if a store offers a variety of instruments, that often means they are less likely to provide the string specialists that you will find in shops that exclusively deal in string instruments.

2) If your child is first starting with a private teacher, consult with the teacher before making any commitment. Most string teachers have established relationships with string instrument dealers. These dealers know the teacher's preferences in terms of shoulder rests, strings and instrument brand. Since the teacher probably sends significant business to a particular shop, you are also more likely to get "priority" service. Every teacher has slightly different preferences when it comes to how an instrument 's tone quality and how it is "set up" (chin rest, shoulder rest, type of strings, etc.) A store that consistently deals with a teacher will have this information and can therefore provide an instrument to the particular teacher's exact specifications. It is important to remember that string instruments come in a variety of sizes and young children need to be "sized" for an instrument. It is very frustrating for a child to try to learn to play an instrument that is too large for them. Matching the size to the player is a determination best made by a string specialist. Ask the person with whom you are interacting at the string shop whether or not they are a professional string player themselves. (Based on their response, your common sense should kick in about what to do next.)

If your child is beginning in a school program, ask the school's string teacher. Most string teachers will hand out a list of recommended shops. Keep in mind, however, that they are often obligated to give you the names of all shops, even those that might not provide the best service, instruments and experts. Instead, ask the teacher where they take their instrument when it needs to be worked on or from whom they purchased their instrument.

3) Stay off the Internet. Yes, it is tempting when you see those rock bottom prices for violins from China, but unfortunately the quality is often very poor and many of the instruments virtually unplayable. I have actually seen instruments that could not even be tuned because the quality was so poor. You will also be stuck with the instrument for life, because few decent string shops will take these instruments in on trade. Also, shops like to deal in their own "brands" and usually won't take other brands in on trade. Don't let price be the determining factor when selecting an instrument. You will not have "saved" any money if the child is frustrated and quits because of trying to play an inferior instrument. As by way of analogy, consider the quality of and the money you spend on sports equipment

4) Ask the following questions of the sales person before signing on the dotted line:

How much is the most expensive violin, viola, cello, bass in your store? The higher the figure, the better. First, it likely gives a more accurate snapshot of the overall quality of the shop. It may indicate they take this business seriously, and are willing to invest and maintain an expensive, high end inventory are prepared to be around for the long run—for themselves and your child. Consider too, that with good instruction, your child might really get into this, and it is not uncommon for parents to pay $15,000 for a violin (even more for a cello) for an advanced teen. That may seem inconceivable now, but music can change children for the better. It opens doors in life that you have not even considered. Cross that bridge when you get to it, but know that there are options should that point in time come, and you would be making an investment in your child—and the instrument. So, plan to plan ahead a bit. Their involvement may lead to wonderful and creative things. It does every day.

This leads to the next question:

What is your trade in policy? Remember, most children are not starting on full sized instruments, so as they grow you are going to need to have instruments that grow with them.

Renting vs. Purchasing: If you are with a good shop, then this question simply comes down to your personal cash flow. Many shops will credit your rental payments up to a certain amount and then apply it towards your eventual purchase.

Used vs. New: Believe it or not, used is often better. Remember the great Italian instruments are hundreds of years old and therefore "used." As long as the instrument is in good condition (no cracks, open seams or disfiguration), old and used are fine.

Insurance: Many shops will offer "instrument" insurance. You should check with your homeowners insurance agent and be absolutely certain that an instrument is covered under your policy. If there is any question, take the shop up on the instrument insurance offer, especially for cellos. A child who can leave his or her lunch on the bus can do the same with a musical instrument. There is also the risk of the instrument being damaged if it is dropped or bumped into.

Carbon Fiber vs. Wood Bows: Strongly consider carbon bows for kids. The bows are less fragile and usually much more "stable" and "even" the than wood bows that can often cost twice as much. Plus, the kids love the colors of the carbon bows and may become much more engaged just because their bow is purple or red. Give the child some say on the color selection, it will give them a greater appreciation of their tools of the trade.

This may become something of a hobby for your child or their life's avocation. Music has the power to change lives, and by investing in a quality instrument from the start, you send a message that this is an endeavor to be taken seriously.

Friday, July 30, 2010

Violin Pedagogy Tip

After teaching a Violin Pedagogy class at Peabody last week, a comment from a Conservatory pedagogy student, whom I had taught during her high school years, struck me. After working on ways to help young students learn to balance the bow comfortably at the frog, she said “Oh, now I REALLY understand what you were doing with my bow arm all those years!” While it may seem like an insult to our teaching when a student doesn’t fully understand what we have been doing, I think it is a reminder, instead, that even when the motor memory takes over as we work on physical aspects of playing, it is often later that a string player fully understands the concepts behind the motions. Now that she is more mature and is revisiting her own playing from a teacher’s perspective, all those years of martelé strokes and “wobbling” at the frog are making sense on many levels and her own playing is falling beautifully into place with fuller understanding. What does this mean to younger students and parents? It means just keep doing those warm ups every day so you develop freedom and fluidity in your playing, and ask your teacher questions along the way.

Rebecca Henry
String Dept. Chair
Peabody Preparatory

10,000 Hours of Practicing

The following is an excerpt from Malcolm Gladwell's latest book, "The Outliers, the story of success."  This book will challenge your ideas regarding how an individual becomes "successful."  This is from a chapter called "The 10,000 hour rule."  All music students should read this excerpt and parents read the entire book.  It will change the way you look at practicing!


……”achievement is talent plus preparation.  The problem with this view is that the closer psychologists look at the careers of the gifted, the smaller the role innate talent seems to plan and the bigger the role preparation seems to play.
            Exhibit A in the talent argument is a study done in the early 1990’s by psychologist K. Anders Ericsson and two colleagues at Berlin’s elite Academy of Music.  With the help of the Academy’s professors, they divided the school’s violinists into three groups.  In the first group were the stars, the students with the potential to become world-class soloists.  In the second were those judged to be merely “good.” In the third were students who were unlikely to every play professionally and who intended to be music teachers in the public school system.  All of the violinists were then asked the same question over the course of your entire career, ever since you first picked up the violin, how many hours have you practiced?
            Everyone from all three groups started playing at roughly the same age, around five years old.  In those first few years, everyone practiced roughly the same amount, about two or three hours a week.  But when the students were around the age of eight, real differences started to emerge.  The students who would end up the best in their class began to practice more than everyone else: six hours a week by age nine, eight hours a week by age twelve, sixteen hours a week by age fourteen, and up and up, until by the age of twenty they were practicing- that is purposefully and single-mindedly playing their instruments with the intent to get better- well over thirty hours a week.  In fact, by age twenty, the elite performers had each totaled ten thousand hours of practice.  By contrast, the merely good students had totaled eight thousand hours, and the future music teachers had totaled just over four thousand hours.
            Ericsson and his colleagues then compared amateur pianists with professional pianists.  The same pattern emerged.  The amateurs never practiced more than about three hours a week over the course of their childhood, and by the age of twenty they had totaled two thousand hours of practice.  The professionals, on the other hand, steadily increased their practice time every year, until by the age of twenty they, like the violinists, had reached ten thousand hours.
            The striking thing about Ericsson’s study is that he and his colleagues couldn’t find any “naturals,” musicians who floated effortlessly to the top while practicing a fraction of the time their peers did.  Nor could they find any “grinds,” people who worked harder than everyone else, yet just didn’t have what it takes to break into the top ranks.  Their research suggests that once a musician has enough ability to get into a top music school, the thing that distinguishes one performer from another is how hard he or she works.  That’s it.  And what’s more, the people at the very top don’t just work harder or even much harder than everyone else.  They work much, much harder.
            The idea that excellence at performing a complex task requires a critical minimum level of practice surfaces again and again and again in studies of expertise.  In fact, researchers have settled on what they believe is the magic number for true expertise: ten thousand hours.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Welcome to

THE Social Network For Classical Musicians & Music Lovers
Are you classical music buff? Always hunting for news, video, information related to classical music? Your search ends here at, a fun and entertaining web portal for classical music that includes a socialnetwork for classical musicians, music teaching jobs, events, news, videos, links, products and auditions.
Keep track of the classical music and artists you love. Whether it is classical music teaching jobs, orchestra auditions, concerts, exclusive video ofClassical Music Masterclasses, or utilizing one of our 15 different directories, like our Musician or Teacher Directory, you will find it all has over 10,000 pages of content neatly organized and easily accessible. All our content goes through administrative approval, so you will only see the finest quality and user appropriate information on the web.
Though classical music appeals to many people, but sometimes the diversity, complexity and even the mystique of "Classical Music" can be rather intimidating. That is why is designed to meet the needs and interests from everyone from the casual listener to both amateur and professional musicians. All that is necessary is a desire to explore and discover new musical territory. The classical music genre is rich enough to provide a lifetime of wonder and surprises, and a nearly limitless potential for discovery makes the journey well worth the effort.

If it's Good Enough for the NFL

Video: A Critical Teaching Tool

I would like to share with you how to use the medium of video quickly, easily and inexpensively to maximize results and shorten the learning curve of your students. I am on the faculty of Peabody Preparatory and I am the director of the Maryland Talent Education Center which offers violin, viola, cello and piano lessons. This center also runs a public school Suzuki string program which serves 90 students in 1st through 8th grades. Videotaping my students is a critical component and one of the most useful and important teaching tool I utilize in all these programs.

As you may have noticed, this current generation of teens is obsessed with looking at themselves. Turn this obsession to your advantage. I have found that one picture is truly worth a thousand words. For example, sometimes, after years of reminding a student to keep their violin scroll higher, I finally show them a video of one of their concerts and they exclaim with amazement that “wow, my scroll really does drop.” (I think that they honestly believe that we make this stuff up!) Video is also a particularly effective teaching tool when it comes to helping students notice issues with intonation, dynamics, posture, stage presence and for string players, bow distribution.

For my public school Suzuki program, we have “video days” where students will perform solo pieces or selections from their orchestra music. I then upload that video to a MY CITY page that I have created for each child in and write a couple of sentences in the “reviews” section. The parent can then reference the video to better understand the suggestions and comments. Parents and their children can watch the video together and discuss what the child is doing well and what would use some attention. This is critical in a program where parents are not present observing the lessons. Students work more consistently and diligently because they love making their videos.

But I also film all the performances of students in the Maryland Talent Education Center and my students at Peabody. The parents in these programs are at the lessons, but I find that the children really benefit from seeing how they have performed in a live concert setting. It is fun, inspirational and educational to watch a child grow and improve over time. It is sometimes hard for a child to see their own progress on a weekly basis, but watching a video from a performance a few years ago, really shows what has been achieved and inspires both parent and child to continue practicing.

In the past it has always been challenging to figure out how to share video with students and parents. There are privacy and quality issues with sites like YouTube. I have found to be the solution. This website was created and designed with teachers and students in mind. It has thousands of pages of video, links, articles, news, events about the classical music industry which can be discovered in the main city. Each of my student’s families has their own “MY CITY” page in the social network area of the site where their video is archived. The MY CITY pages can be set to private, contacts only or public which solves the issue of privacy and safety and the upload system they provide allows for video clips of more than just 10 minutes and the quality is excellent. (Remember, that some quality issues relate to your internet access speed) Just become a member of and there are instructions for uploading video at the top of the MY CITY page. It is simple and best of all, free.

Recently, I have discovered another very important use for each child’s video archives on their MY CITY page. Students have been using a link to their MY CITY page to fulfill the requirements for the Arts Supplement on the Common Application form for undergraduate admissions. Since there is plenty of archived video of live performances, there is no longer a mad rush and the anxiety of putting together audition tapes.

I encourage you to start using the power of video soon. I believe it is a great shortcut to better results with students.