Did anybody see Yo-Yo Ma’s performance of the Sarabande from Bach’s 6th suite at the Academy Awards last night? The piece was supposed to serve as a requiem of sorts for the folks that passed away this past year. But the audience’s clapping for the deceased, who had their pictures flashed on the giant screens as Mr. Ma played, was both annoying and distracting. What’s up with these Hollywood-types? Don’t they know how to act?
Sounds Like NowA blog by saxophonist Brian Sacawa
Archive for February, 2005
Two weeks ago, a friend of mine, the charismatic flutist Amy Porter, gave me an article she’d just reprinted in her flute club newsletter. The article, written by Derek Mithaug and excerpted from the Juilliard Journal, discusses the two ways in which most musicians approach their careers—they either FAN or CAN.
To FAN means to Find-A-Niche and is generally the easiest approach to consider. Students that FAN are looking for a niche in an established organization like an opera company, symphony orchestra, dance company, teaching position, or some other work like directing, presenting, marketing, or consulting, for example. In other words, the work is there for them, they simply need to learn the craft, distinguish themselves (not an easy task), and fit into the structure, which is already in place.
The other way to approach a career in music is to CAN, or to Create-A-Niche. Students who CAN like to create their own jobs. These students are entrepreneurial in nature and tend to be more independent-minded. To succeed as a CANner, you need to learn to certain skills beyond your craft—skills that will help you find jobs and succeed at them, like writing press releases, making phone calls, follow-up correspondence, fund raising, design, marketing, and so on. Certain musicians—like concert saxophonists, for example—have to follow a CAN model, since there are few established organizations in which to strive to become a permanent member.
Whether a student chooses to FAN or CAN depends on many factors, including ambition, musical ability, street smarts, and job availability. However, I also think that it’s possible to combine aspects from each approach to make a career extremely rich (perhaps not exactly in the financial sense!) and rewarding.
What a trip. I actually set out last Sunday in order to get to New York for a Monday morning masterclass at the Manhattan School of Music. As I was leaving Michigan, I had the radio tuned to NPR and heard on the local news broadcast that over the last few days southeastern Michigan had experienced a dramatic spike in flu outbreaks. I’d actually sent a student home on Friday because he was coughing a lot during his lesson. I couldn’t afford to get sick with the NY recital coming up. Had I escaped the plague? Well, as it turned out, I hadn’t. I could feel my body telling me that something was wrong.
When I finally got to New York City ten hours later, I checked into the hostel I was supposed to stay at and then promptly checked out. Sure, it looks nice on the website . . . I couldn’t even fit my saxophones, equipment, and suitcases in the room. Not to mention that the door didn’t seem to close very tightly. I made an emergency reservation at the International House and was lucky to have gotten a room on such short notice. It was the “Middle East Suite.” I won’t forget it! It probably saved my performance.
The bad news was that I was getting sick. I could feel it. And it wasn’t just a small cold. It was a flu-like illness. My sinuses ached and were in danger of closing up, which would make me completely incapable of playing Alvin Lucier’s Spira Mirabilis since it requires me to circular breathe for nearly three minutes. My “stay healthy” regimen over the next three days included drinking about three gallons of water per day, zinc supplements, Sudafed every four hours, a one-a-day multivitamin, three Odwalla Citrus C-Monster beverages per day (1000% vitamin C per serving), and plenty of rest. I was so nervous about getting sick that I didn’t go outside unless I was completely bundled up. This hat helped a lot. (It was pretty cold in New York City that week.)
When it was all said and done, I was able to hold the sickness at bay and turn in a great performance, feeling as though it was one of the best, if not the best, performance of my career. In fact, the Sudafed probably helped my performance of the Philip Glass work. See, there’s no place in the work for me to clear my mouthpiece out if saliva starts to accumulate. The Sudafed dried me up so much that I wasn’t producing any! A blessing in disguise? Probably not. I wish that I didn’t have to deal with being sick, which finally set in the next day. (It’s funny though, I must have pounded the illness so hard that it never fully developed and I only felt as if I had been sick, as in getting over it, not that I was sick.) However, I’m fortunate that everything turned out so positively and am looking forward to many more New York performances.
You’ll have to forgive me for not posting as regularly as before. I’m in the final preparations for the New York Debut and I’ve had to devote most of my energy to that.
I’m off to New York tomorrow for what promises to be an exciting week. On Monday, I’ll give a masterclass for the saxophone class at the Manhattan School of Music. Tuesday will be relaxing and practicing. Wendesday is the big gig. Then it’s quickly off to Hartford, CT for a guest recital at the Hartt School of Music on Thursday; then onto Amherst, MA for a guest recital on Friday; and finally up to Plainfield, VT for a live radio broadcast and interview on Kalvos and Damian’s New Music Bazaar. You can listen to the show online by clicking here.
It’s a hectic schedule and I’ll miss posting for the week. Will be back soon with a full report. See you soon!
Virtuosity fascinates me. It’s interesting to trace the term through history and see how its meaning and the perception of virtuosity has changed.
Virtuoso is an Italian word, which comes from the Latin, virtus, meaning excellence or worth. As currently used, the word refers to a performer who is especially adroit in the practice of his or her instrument, a musician of extraordinary technical skill. Originally, however, the word had much broader connotations, existing as a term of honor for people who distinguished themselves in an intellectual or artistic field. One could be deemed a virtuoso poet, a virtuoso architect, or a virtuoso scholar, for example. But the epithet was most likely to be applied to an excellent musician. Implicit in the concept of the virtuoso was not only unmatched technical skill, but recognition of a deeper understanding of the art. The term was used notably to indicate those who committed themselves to the theory or to the composition of music.
Some people love virtuosity. Some hate it. Some think it’s an integral component of music and progress and some find it detrimental to music. The whole enterprise can be so contentious. In my opinion, Luciano Berio (1925-2003) had the best view of virtuosity:
The best solo performers of our own time-—modern in intelligence, sensibility, and technique–are those who are capable of acting within a wide historical perspective, and of resolving the tensions getween the creative demands of past and present, emplying their instruments as means of research and expression. Their virtuosity is not confined to manual dexterity nor to philological specialization. Although they may operate at differing levels of understanding, they are able to commit themselves to the only type of virtuosity that is acceptable today, that of sensibility and intelligence.
I recently watched the film Rivers and Tides: Working With Time (2001). It’s a portrait of the artist Andy Goldsworthy, who works exclusively with materials found in nature, like stone, wood, leaves, and ice. His work is stunning. Ephemeral. Fragile. Trascendent. Beautiful. It’s all of those things. But what also struck me about Goldsworthy was his absolute engagement with his sculpture. His concentration is immense. He is completely engrossed in the moment while at work, highlighting both the beautiful and ephemeral in his pieces. Time seems suspended even though as the sun comes up or the tide comes in you are acutely aware that time is indeed elapsing, while also threatening to destroy his creations.
Goldsworthy’s appraoch to his art reminded me of Slowness by Milan Kundera. In the novel, Kundera proposes that we not race from one thing to the next to the next to the next to the next and eventually on to “no thing,” as Eric Owen Moss puts it. There’s no focus in that race. No satisfaction. No destination. Only the next destination.
It’s important to be in the moment. To be completely immersed in and devoted to the task at hand whether it’s practicing, writing, composing, painting, sculpting, reading. If you ever have the sense that you’re becoming a part of the race—as I sometimes do—watch this film. It’s inspiring.
I’d like to follow up a bit on the discussion from the previous post. The issue that emerged from the comments was one of catering to an audience versus playing (or composing) the music that one believes in. What’s really at the heart of the matter here is finding and defining a personal voice.
I think this is what we’re all searching for. However, when does one start developing a distinctive and unique voice? From the beginning? Only after years and years of study and attempting to re-create other voices? Is it important to “pay your dues” before arriving at a personal sound? Can one be born with it? Is it something that can be developed at all?
I believe that finding a voice is an organic process. You are the sum of your influences. And the way you channel and synthesize all of your experiences and knowledge defines your own unique voice. At least this is how I feel I arrived at my current state. As I learned to play the saxophone, I was often taken by this artist or that artist and tried to emulate their personal style. I found things in each artists’ playing–the way they turned a phrase, their tone, articulation, control of dynamics or timbre–that I attempted to appropriate into my own playing. When I play now, I don’t think about how so-and-so would do something, I think about how I want to do it. But if I hadn’t gone through that process of discovery as a student, I don’t think I could make those kinds of decisions now. The bigger issue for me at this point is not so much how I play, but rather what I play. Choosing what to perform helps define my voice as much as how I perform it.
That being said, I don’t ever compromise my values for an audience. I believe that a high level of artistic integrity goes hand in hand with great musicianship and conviction as a performer (or composer for that matter). Now certainly, I want to perform for people and would never give up an opportunity to do so. Sometimes that means I play at a local Women’s Club or elderhostel or retirement community. In those cases, I might modify my program a little–perhaps taking a bit of an edge off–but in every instance I always bring music that I believe in and wish to communicate to them, no matter how challenging it might be. I’ve found that conviction and passion about a certain music–things I’m able to project in performance–usually trump preconceived notions about what people think they like or don’t like. Who knew that little old ladies could like Michael Gordon, William Bolcom, or Karlheinz Stockhausen?
Shouldn’t we play music that people want to hear?
A colleague I respect very highly asked me that question recently. And I’m pretty sure why he asked. He knows that I collaborate frequently with emerging composers and that the resulting work sometimes exists outside of certain listeners’ comfort zones—his included. Like Ms. Gould from a previous post, he simply has a more conservative sonic pallate. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with that and I happen to find his Mozart mezmerizing and his Bach exquisite. But I think deep down what he really meant was, “Why would you let anyone write you a piece of music that sounds like that?”
Implicit in that question is the idea that the performer can exercise a certain amount of control over the collaborating composer. Can I do that? Maybe. Should I do it? No.
The truth is, I never tell a composer what to write. Why would I? I’ve chosen to work with that particular composer because I believe in his or her voice, not because I have an agenda on my instrument. However, if the composer were to ask me if I was looking to explore anything specific or if I had any ideas, I’d be happy to share them. It’s just not my place to impose those issues from the beginning. To be sure, there have been a few times I was sorry I didn’t lay down some parameters with regard to range, extended techniques, or the eight levels of pianissimo. But even in those instances I’m up for a challenge, even if I’m certain of the outcome.
The bottom line: You can choose who you work with. You can’t tell them what to do.
Tour de France climbing categories are assigned subjectively based on:
- length of the climb
- altitude difference from bottom to top
- average (and steepest) grade
- summit elevation
- climb’s position on the stage (early or late)
- width and conditions of the road
After considering all these factors, the Tour’s director sportif makes his recommendations after driving over the stage routes a couple of months before the race. Also, the Tour is supposed to be tough, so what might be a Cat 2 climb in The Tour might be a Cat 1 in another race. The categories are supposed to be the riders’ perceived difficulty on the climb, so the numbers given below are only a guideline.
- Typically for the Tour, Category 4 is an easy, short climb.
- Category 3 is the easiest “real” climb – ie, 5km at a 5% grade.
- Category 2 is about as tough as you could ever see here in the states. (Something like 5km at a grade of 8-8.5%)
- Category 1 typically a long climb (15 – 20+ km) at a not too steep grade – 5-6%.
- Hors Category (HC) is long and steep. The altitude difference is at least 1000km and an average grade of 7% or more.