About neuroscience and music (mainly classical). Exploring the relationship of music and the brain based on experience of two careers.

November 8, 2012


I attended a wonderful performance at the Berkeley Art Museum by the Chamber Chorus of the University of California directed by Marika Kuzma. The 40-member ensemble stood on a cement floor in the center of an installation by graffiti artist Barry McGee -- below a damaged minivan hanging by its rear axle off the edge of a cliff (one of the museum's many balconies), its contents having spilled into the performance space as its hapless occupants tried to claw their way back up to the road (a higher balcony). (I took the installation as a metaphor for the fiscal cliff....)

The sound space was perfect for a cappella singing of liturgical music because the music could echo around in nooks and alcoves of several stories of the spare cement-block interior for as long as 2-3 seconds. The program marked the closing day of the (usually very secular) museum's exhibit, "Devotions" and was divided into two halves: music from the Byzantine liturgy of St. John Chrysostom and from the Roman Catholic Mass, each half offering representative prayers. The East was represented by wonderful Liturgies 1,2,3 by the contemporary Ukrainian composer Roman Hurko, as well as Arvo Pärt and Rachmaninoff; the West by selections from Vaughn Williams' Mass in G and settings by John Taverner (The Lamb by William Blake) and Trevor Weston (Ashes from Psalm 102), both living composers.

The performance was exquisite in every respect and moving even to a secular listener. The young singers, almost all undergraduates, or recent ones I presume, sang in perfect tune and ensemble, over a broad dynamic range, responsive to the able direction, the perfection of their technical ability matching the perfection of the liturgies. The performance was worthy of any of the great halls in the country.

Immediately outside the doors to the museum, still open for usual traffic, college street life continued oblivious to the sublimity inside: ethnic restaurants buzzing with patrons, street vendors with wares spread out on the sidewalks, small groups of students with backpacks or guitars in tattered jeans and shorts, cyclists weaving around them and defying cautious drivers as well as aged long-haired permanent denizens of the town doing the things they have done since the glorious '60's. 

Inside the museum a diverse crowd of young and old, some of the latter with long gray hair and ponytails, was only partly accommodated by the small number of folding chairs grabbed immediately after they were lifted off a single rolling cart 5 minutes before the concert. The majority of the audience stood around the back of the space and hung over many-levelled balconies surrounding it: young girls in tight shorts who I might have expected to see in cheerleading practice or trolling outside, young boys in baseball caps without their skateboards. An infant contributed to the sounds randomly from the depths of the museum. Strolling past the performance with bemused curiosity but not stopping to listen were families with children who had decided to check out the museum as part of their casual Sunday afternoon.

Admission was free to museum members (and at least one friend). Others could pay $10 at the museum entry desk--or just walk in to the concert. No ushers or ticket-takers were in evidence.

Few in that audience would think of the difference between this experience and what it would take for Gretna Music to field such a concert: an organization with a board of directors, volunteers, paid staff, office and other overhead, production costs, computerized ticketing, insurance policies, marketing expense, hall rental, transportation and housing costs, budgets, cash-flow statements, auditors.....ad infinitum (including frequent and regular meetings). 

We use the same software that concert managements use to set their artist fees. It predicts ticket receipts in any given venue and so they set their fees to match those receipts. We take the risk (of inadequate sales); they (or unmanaged musicians) take the money stipulated in the contract. To pay our costs beyond the artist fees (or the fees themselves if we fail to sell enough tickets) we must come up with additional revenue: from contributions, fund-raising projects like raffles, our Tour of Homes, and sales of stuff.

Sales of what stuff? T-shirts, CD's, candy, coffee, etc, the usual stuff, and the total receipts are always disappointing. That's why at almost every concert I attend -- Disney Hall, Verizon Hall, etc -- you can purchase wine and spirits at bars in the lobbies before the concert or at intermission, and in many halls you have several choices for food. 

You can imagine the obstacles to selling wine and spirits in a rural region. (Pennsylvania has a state "Liquor Control Board" and we are in James Carville's "Alabama" section of the state.) (Suggestions appreciated.)

I was inspired to write all this after reading: Aspen Music Festival Overwhelmed With Applications After Colorado Legalizes Pot. Great satire! But I'm serious about the wine. Aside from its economic benefit to Gretna Music, just like blazing a 'fat spliff' savoring a glass of wine can be a great accompaniment to a good concert.

No comments:

Post a Comment