JOURNAL ARCHIVE

Monthly Blog

2020 JOURNAL ARCHIVE

  • JANUARY 2020

    As the clock approaches midnight, it still seems appropriate to have a look back. December was a month that began with sadness for Cindy and me but ended with an even greater appreciation for friends and family.

    Charles McTee passed away at age 91, about seven months after his wife Jaquelin died. It is difficult enough losing one parent, but two in the same year is truly heartbreaking. I first got to know Chuck and Jackie about ten years ago, and they were a wonderful addition to my family.

    They lived all their lives in the small town of Eatonville, Washington, she as a teacher and he as a businessman. Their love and respect for each other was on display every minute. It was evident that they had raised two fantastic daughters, Christy, who lived nearby, and Cindy.

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  • FEBRUARY 2020

    Between impeachment and Brexit, working in the States and Europe is provoking more questions than answers. Good thing that I could concentrate on some truly wonderful music-making during the first month of the New Year.

    Before heading east, Cindy and I went out to LA, visiting Daniel and Bridget for a few days. After a half year of marriage, they are doing great, and both have really exciting projects ahead. We spent a lovely New Year’s Eve with her family, and the next day had dinner with Jeff Beal and his wife, Joan. Daniel and I also took in the ninth installment of Star Wars. It seemed to wrap up the story, but it also seemed just a bit cumbersome in having to deal with so many threads from the past films. Still, being old enough to have seen them all in a theater, I can say that it has been a true pleasure. Watching the cycle grow and reach several generations is a thing of wonder.

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  • MARCH 2020

    ¡Viva España!

    It is not often that I get to spend a whole month in a country other than the United States. The couple of times it has occurred, I was involved in an opera production, when you have to hang around through the rehearsals and performances. This past month, following the week in Dublin, Cindy and I headed for Spain, where I had two weeks of concerts and two weeks of sightseeing.

    Starting off in Mallorca, I was in familiar territory. Having conducted there a couple years ago, I knew the orchestra and most of the city. As with so many European ensembles, the Balearic Orchestra does its rehearsing in a studio, away from the concert hall where it performs. Although I have written about this situation before, it bears repeating. The hall is to the orchestra as the violin is to the violinist. Imagine soloists needing to practice using one instrument but doing the final rehearsal and performance on another. Yes, I know that pianists have the same, if not a worse problem, but they can still develop their own personal sounds and styles by themselves.

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  • APRIL 2020

    Well, here we are, mostly stuck at home—some working, others studying, and many trying to figure out what to do to fill the time. For me, the month started quietly, but by the time I started rehearsing with the DSO for planned performances of Carmina Burana, the World Health Organization had declared the coronavirus a pandemic, and life in the United States began to change. The next few days brought concert cancellations, starting with those in Detroit.

    Next it was with the young musicians of The Orchestra Now at Bard College in New York. We were supposed to play a program in Manhattan, but the school shut down classes, and you just cannot rehearse an orchestra virtually.

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  • MAY 2020

    Throughout my adult life as a musician, I have never experienced what most people would call a daily routine. Those of us in the profession don’t keep regular hours. We have rehearsals and concerts on different days at different times. Sleep patterns change depending on when we complete our work and then start up again.

    Now that I have been holed up in my bunker for six weeks (or has it been six months?), I have a consistent regimen. It did not take long to settle in, and I suppose it was inevitable that some sort of pattern would emerge. Conductors do not practice at home; they study whichever works are next on the agenda. As the cancellations kept rolling in, the need to have pieces ready to go disappeared.

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  • JUNE 2020: Recovery Edition, Part 1

    Nearly three months into the process of isolating ourselves physically from the rest of society, members of the arts world find themselves struggling to come up with solutions for how to return, if we really do, to a more regular pattern of life. This has given us a lot to think about, and this pondering has produced some interesting experiments.

    Performances are given with musicians all over the world participating, their images projected onto our devices as if they were an extended version of the Brady Bunch. I was involved in one webinar with eight other people and found myself in the middle of the three-across group. All of a sudden, I was Paul Lynde on the Hollywood Squares.

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  • JUNE 2020: Recovery Edition, Part 2

    A little over a week ago, I wrote at length about what concert life might look like as we get to September and October, the start of the cultural season. I considered matters of orchestra size, social distancing among musicians and audience members, how to accommodate subscribers, and other pressing matters.

    In the short time between that article and this one, I have heard from a number of people in the profession, many of whom are trying to formulate similar thoughts and put a plan in place. My piece left out some factors that must be considered, each of them affecting the process of returning to the concert hall. Perhaps it might be easiest for me to address some of these issues by framing them in the form of questions:

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  • JUNE 2020: Recovery Edition, Part 3

    Perspective has a way of reshaping our priorities. For the past two weeks, we have witnessed events that either remind us of earlier times or, for the younger set, are unlike anything we have ever experienced. Now we can truly say “The Whole World Is Watching.”

    I remember 1968 very well. Although my heart and soul went into my studies, it was impossible to be immune to the scenes in Grant Park—and in major cities and college towns across the country—as Americans were reeling from the assassinations of Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert Kennedy as well as the continuing conflict in Vietnam. Here we find ourselves once again, grappling with social and political unrest and physical acts of violence that are changing on a daily basis. This time, however, our war is not against an enemy in a faraway country, and we know why we are fighting.

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  • JUNE 2020: Recovery Edition, Part 4

    The sound you have been hearing of late is that of shoes dropping. More than three months into the isolation from normalized civilization, a few things are becoming clear.

    We are a nation divided in a world that is more insular. Equality seems to be just a word, devoid of meaning for many. The great experiment called democracy is seeing itself torn apart, and we are barely hanging on to our constitutional rights. Our diverse musical culture is trying its best to be relevant, but at the same time, there is no way for artists to do what they do best: communicate in person.

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  • JUNE 2020: Recovery Edition, Part 5

    In the 1980s there was a popular television show called The A-Team. The leader of the group, Hannibal—not Dr. Lecter—had a motto, heard on each episode: “I love it when a plan comes together.” One has to wonder what he said when it did not.

    As we reach the four-month mark of the viral wars in America, several strategies have taken shape for easing restrictions, with some succeeding and others being met with a surge in cases. The separation anxieties are subsiding in Europe as arts organizations experiment with socially distanced performances but meanwhile increasing in the States as uncertainty looms. Amid the continuing protests, calls for parts of history to be dismantled, and a justice system careening ever more out of control, the United States of America might as well drop the first word of the country’s name.

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  • JULY 2020: Recovery Edition, Part 6

    Facing the facts is a rough business. Those of us in the arts are dreamers, always seeking to find what is next. But what if there is no next? We have come to an important crossroad during this pandemic that is forcing each of us to consider options that were at one time unthinkable.

    These actions will have consequences not only for us in the orchestra business, but also for musicians in every sector of the performing world. The possibility that our work, which has come to a standstill, might disappear altogether is slowly sinking in. Consequently, soul-searching and devising workable solutions are at the forefront of our thinking.

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  • JULY 2020: Recovery Edition, Part 7

    There is a lot of information. At the same time, too little information is available. We don’t know what to do with the information when we get it. Who is this information person anyway?

    During the continuing pandemic, I have found myself in very strange lands, navigating the etiquette of virtual meetings, chat rooms, and even phone conferences in which I sense this odd disconnect between those I am speaking with and me. The more of these events I do, familiarity breeds acquiescence to this new set of communication tools.

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  • JULY 2020: Recovery Edition, Part 8

    Change is not easy. It is built on a foundation of pre-existing ideas that people deconstruct, rearrange, or reshape. For the short time that we have been a nation, America has tried to find the path to the future by looking back at the lessons of history.

    It is human nature to seek out stability and security, and to hold on to traditions. With the tragic consequences of the COVID epidemic, we are forced to tread carefully as we plot our return to that safe spot. We are staying conscious of the need to get back with an eye to the future. Perhaps we have been a little too conservative.

    For the time being, many musicians have found novel ways to reach the public, whether through individual lessons, private concerts, or all manner of clever audio and video presentations. I have seen how creative we can be, considering that we are not actually creating the works that we perform.

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  • JULY 2020: Recovery Edition, Part 9

    As we move forward into July, it is becoming clear that we will pay a price for not listening. Right from the start of our isolation, my thoughts have been centered on what the musical world will be like when the time comes to start the regular orchestral season. I have been concerned about the ability of music directors and soloists to come to the States. Turns out that it is problematic the other way around as well.

    The EU has cracked down on its citizens entering the U.S.A. for fear of the virus being transmitted back to its own shores. Not surprisingly, given the aggressive reopening plans in some parts of the country and the lack of adherence to public health guidelines, we have experienced the highest spike in new cases of any country in the world. Some states, including New York, Connecticut, and New Jersey, are now imposing a two-week quarantine on visitors from other states with large outbreaks.

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  • JULY 2020: National Pastime Edition

    With the start of the baseball season only moments away, I thought it might be amusing to imagine what the play-by-play commentary might sound like:

    Welcome to beautiful Busch Stadium. It has been a long time coming, but here we are, on July 24, finally getting the Major League season started. The groundskeepers have done a great job getting the field ready, even with the hot and humid weather St. Louis has experienced these past few weeks.

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  • JULY 2020: Recovery Edition, Part 10

    The cancel culture is out in full force. Almost every day brings news of yet another arts institution delaying the start of its season until the new year. When I began writing this series of articles, my greatest fear was that we were not going to be prepared for this eventuality. Now that it is here, what can be done to fill in the time?

    Although parts of Europe have opened up, most of the organizations across the pond have taken a conservative approach. They are presenting concerts, but for the most part, caution is being exercised. Here in America, we cannot get into a concert hall, and there is a lack of product available in the video market.

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  • AUGUST 2020: Recovery Edition, Part 11

    It has been two months since I began writing about the impact of the coronavirus on the world of classical music. Sometimes, I have been prompted by developments in the news, and other times I have shared general ideas for potential future use as the industry recovers.

    Until now, I have not really addressed an important group: the staff. These are the people who mostly work behind the scenes. You don’t know their names or even what their jobs entail. However, without them, an orchestra cannot function. As opposed to the musicians, many of these workers need to continue doing their jobs while the crisis continues. That presents a real problem, one that every organization faces.

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  • AUGUST 2020: Recovery Edition, Part 12

    New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Toronto, Boston, Baltimore. Those are just a few of the orchestras that have announced they will not commence the fall season and do not plan to start up again until the holidays. The next seven days will certainly see more organizations do something similar.

    All of us want to return. The spring and summer vacation has lasted long enough. But now we add autumn to the list. All we need is winter and we will have completed the Vivaldi cycle, not to mention Tchaikovsky, Haydn, and Glazunov, to name a few. Perhaps those should be among the works we consider upon getting back to work.

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  • AUGUST 2020: Recovery Edition, Part 13

    There are some things that we are all supposed to do, certainly those of us in certain age brackets. The government demands some, our family and friends ask for others, and the medical community advises on several as well. It was time for what might be my final colonoscopy. When you reach eighty, and if you are in decent health, this procedure is considered unnecessary. I will be seventy-six next month. Don’t worry. I am not going to write anything about the invasion.

    Because we live in a different time, there is a new wrinkle in preparing for the operation. You have to get a COVID-19 test. All of us have watched and read about what it entails, but I thought that it might be useful for you to know how it actually works. This would apply equally to anyone who has to undergo surgery of any kind these days.

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  • AUGUST 2020: Recovery Edition, Part 14

     It is now the middle of August. If ever there was a confluence of important decisions to be made, this is the time. Schools are supposed to reopen, but conflicting directives and information are making that choice difficult. The political conventions are approaching, and we don’t have any idea of how they will look or sound. Protests continue to grow, and the enmity between sectors of the public and law enforcement seems greater than ever. Sports are experiencing the consequences, in some cases, of seemingly reckless behavior, thereby jeopardizing all participants.

    And then there is our small world of classical music. Most orchestras were expecting to start their seasons either in September or very early October. Some have cancelled all concerts until the new year, and a few have taken the entire 2020-21 season off the books. Others are holding out until the last possible moment, with the hope that some miracle will allow them to proceed in some form.

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