Thursday, August 26, 2010

A Jennifer Higdon Update

If you remember the performance of Jennifer Higdon's Percussion Concerto with the Harrisburg Symphony in March of the 2007-2008 Season with our principal percussionist Chris Rose as soloist, consider this post “an update.”

The composer was so impressed with his playing, she arranged the orchestral part of the concerto for band – which Chris then premiered with his “other” ensemble, the United States Marine Band - The President's Own -  on May 10, 2009.

Usually, you'd see Chris in the Forum, along with other members of the symphony, in “concert black” – white tie and tails for the men, black dresses for the women. Here's a photo taken after the premiere with Master Sergeant Christopher Rose with composer Jennifer Higdon (looking very civilian) and conductor Col. Michael Colburn following the premiere of the band version of Higdon's Percussion Concerto.

I've posted it here today (with Jennifer's permission) because she'd just posted it on Facebook, which she finally broke down and signed up for (yeah, there goes a lot of composing time, I bet...).

In past seasons with the Harrisburg Symphony, Stuart Malina has conducted several works by Jennifer Higdon – music aside, they were classmates at Curtis and were born a day apart – in addition to the Percussion Concerto, there was “blue cathedral” and, this past season, 'Skyline' from “CityScape.”

Earlier this year, Higdon won the Pulitzer Prize for Music for her Violin Concerto, composed for Hilary Hahn who then recorded the work for Deutsche Grammophone. In another post, I'd written about listening to the concerto when the Liverpool performance was broadcast on-line through the BBC last summer.

That recording will now be released on September 21st, 2010.

Monday, August 23, 2010

What If Musicians Hit Only 30% of Their Notes?

As summer begins to fade into fall – pending the weather and whether or not you follow a calendar whose “New Year” is predetermined by the start of school – the symphony is getting ready for its new season and musicians (back from playing summer festivals) are finishing up a much-needed respite (what others may call “vacation”) before digging into the new season's repertoire.

While over at my blog, Thoughts on a Train, I've been working hard getting my music appreciation thriller, “The Lost Chord,” posted on the installment plan, I wanted to take this moment to post something here that's part of an on-going series on the topic you can find around the web, especially on You-Tube.

Given the budget cutting and meltdown of arts funding in the country today, a frequently asked question is "Why is music important in the public schools?"

If someone in your family is getting ready for school – or perhaps already back in the swing of academic things – here is something to ponder.

Normally, I am not one for sports analogies but I like how this one drives the point right across the plate.

How important is music in our schools? If you think sports are important – and they are – think about music this way:

A baseball players with a .300 batting average is considered (so I'm told) very good – in fact, even bordering on excellent (.400 being a nearly unachievable goal: even Babe Ruth had a career average of .342).

But that really means he's only hitting the ball 30% of the time, right?

Now, imagine if you were listening to the orchestra and they only hit 30% of the notes right.

When you go to a concert, you expect the musicians to hit one out of the park every time they pick up their instruments, much less at least make contact with the note.

And speaking academically, most students (and their parents) would be very happy to have a score of 95% on a math or history test. That's enough to be awarded an A, right?

Listen to this short clip (beginning around 2:50) to hear what a band of high school musicians would sound like if they only hit 95% of their notes right!

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Jack Stamp is one of the best-known names in band music and music education in this country today, as a conductor and clinician as well as a composer and arranger. He's also head of the department and the director of bands at Indiana University of Pennsylvania. The audio of this clip (sorry there's no video to watch) was recorded at a presentation in which he talked about the importance of music education in our public schools, especially having band programs for young musicians to learn their performance skills.

Because, really, if they played less than 100%, you'd notice it and you wouldn't think they were very good if they only did as well as someone who has a .300 batting average or still got an A on a math test (who might go on to college as an engineer or a pre-med student and end up working where lives depend on their accuracy).

Just something to think about in this hazy if not quite lazy days at the end of Summer...

I'll be back soon with information about the new season set to get underway with the Harrisburg Symphony very soon. Meanwhile, check out the Season Preview Stuart Malina and I recorded back in the spring – and check out this wonderful new program for public school students to attend Harrisburg Symphony concerts!

- Dick Strawser