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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.