Tuesday, September 27, 2022

Free (cash or check only)

A central theme of this project is Vermont’s treasured sense of local community. I want to celebrate and also support the enduring vitality of Vermont’s many village centers and downtowns. In that spirit, I was clear from inception that the concerts should be free. My own time I would consider part of my service as a faculty member of a land-grant institution, and I hoped that the venues would waive any facility fees. (As so far they all have, from the $50 church rental charge to the $1000 performance center fee.)

Another key theme is to encourage an active response to the climate crisis. And from the beginning, everyone wanted to know if the concerts would be fundraising events. This seemed a natural idea, but in some tension with the “free” bit. (In my experience, billing such as “free will offering” or “donations at the door” or “pay what you can” all send the message that one is supposed to pay.)

At first I compromised by deciding not to say anything about money in the promotion or on stage, but only include a note in the program that read:

We are glad to be able to offer these concerts free of charge. 
Please consider a donation to one of the following groups…

Then I played in Strafford. As it happens, the church there has monthly concerts and always puts out a basket for donations. Without me saying anything, we collected $381 for 350Vermont.

So I decided to continue to advertise the concerts as free, but to speak my donation solicitation from the stage as well as write it in the program. That led to a similar haul for the next public concert (Berlin). 

Then I figured that there were likely to be people present who might be inclined to donate but had come without cash or check. I realized we ought to include a solicitation heads-up in the promo after all. Still concerned about the implication of “free will donation at the door” and the like, I’ve settled on:

Admission FREE 
Donations will be accepted to benefit...

In the meantime, there have been a couple of concerts where I have not solicited donations, for one reason or another. But if the per-concert receipts so far turn out to be typical, it will add up to a fair chunk of change for climate orgs over the course of the next 240 or so concerts.

Sunday, September 25, 2022

A parable

It is hard to see all that we have lost, and all that we are certain or likely to lose even under the most wildly optimistic ecological scenarios, and not lose heart. It can be difficult to enjoy or appreciate what is still here knowing that it may not be for long.

Last week I made a preliminary visit to Miller’s Run School in Sheffield to get a sense of what the student ensembles can do in anticipation of writing a piece for us to perform together this spring. As I related here, a few years ago Miller’s Run initiated a compulsory instrumental program in which every student receives instruction on violin, beginning in the third grade. After a couple of years, they have the option of continuing on violin, switching to cello, or taking up a wind instrument and leaving the string ensemble for the band. One way or another, every student in grades 3-8 is studying an instrument and playing in an ensemble.

When Principal Patrick Ham was lobbying the town and school board to initiate this program, people expressed concern that it might not be sustainable. The launch depended heavily on a 5-year grant to support the increase in musical faculty and instruction time. What would happen, parents and citizens wanted to know, if the program had to be discontinued after the grant ran out?

“Then,” Principal Ham responded, “for five years, all our children will have had music instruction.”

Wednesday, September 21, 2022

Newport City concert write-up

  ...is now posted

I was lucky to have three different singers collaborate, including two students (always a plus) and a young composer who sang her own music (doubleplus).

Thursday, September 15, 2022

Calais (Adamant) concert write-up

 ...is now posted. Go there to see a granite doghouse.

Interestingly, this concert was part of a series curated by Adam Tendler, who completed a project similar to mine. Fresh out of music school, he played a program of 20th-century American piano music in each of the 50 states. He wrote a book about it, 88x50: A Memoir of Sexual Discovery, Modern Music and the United States of America.

Monday, September 5, 2022

How to book 251 concerts, part 6: Have help. Pay them.

I haven’t said much here about my team of crack assistants, all undergrad Music Technology and Business majors at UVM: Elizabeth Indorato, Brady Jalili, and Willow Phoenix. Elizabeth and Willow run the Facebook and Instagram sites, respectively (Reason #17 for geezers to keep young people around, though honestly they’re a bit young for Facebook) while Brady helps coordinate publicity with the various presenters for each concert.

They also assist with booking. To be brutally honest, the reason I didn’t mention them earlier in this context is that we only recently passed the crossover point where their help in this regard actually saves me time. It can at first take longer to explain how to do something than to do it oneself, all the more so because not only were they not very experienced with this—neither was I, so I was figuring out how to do it at the same time that I was figuring our how to ask for help.

But now we’ve progressed to this magic place where one of them will message me and tell me I’ve got a gig on this date, in this town, on this kind of piano. Sometimes I was involved along the way, but increasingly it just gets sprung on me. It’s an amazing experience for someone who has never had management.

Side note: as a typical performer/composer type, I’ve always seen promotion and advance work as a grind, and done it only begrudgingly (and minimally). It is odd to me that my team of music business majors are actually glad for the experience! 

Though of course I pay them. On this Labor Day, I feel compelled to opine that unpaid internships should not exist. They devalue not only the worker but the work, lowering the market value of the labor of others doing similar work for a living. And they make internships a privilege not affordable to students who need to earn, helping to perpetuate inequities.

Berlin, Bartok, Bowie, and the Patrons of Husbandry

I have posted the Berlin concert write-up. Lots of context in this one on Bartok’s stay in Berlin and the Grange movement. And an Easter egg: find the David Bowie reference!

Thursday, September 1, 2022

Supererogatory Scarlatti

There are several discretionary goals I’ve set, over and above playing every town: identifying a local collaborator or composer when I can, finding a playable acoustic piano wherever possible, crafting rich post-concert write-ups, and learning a new Scarlatti sonata for every concert.

These make the project harder and logistically much more complicated. But they give the project great added value for me. Honestly, I think the Scarlatti thing is just really cool, in an inside/geeky way, even if it doesn’t have anything to do with Vermont (apart from the ii-V-I intro gag). And not just “cool”. I have discovered—as approximately zero keyboard players and aficionados will be surprised to hear—that Scarlatti was, like, wicked good.

Scarlatti’s inventiveness in the sonatas is boundless. It’s not just that there are 555 of the things. (Of course, they’re one-movement works, so the catalog is comparable to “only” about 160 3- or 4-movement Classical sonatas.) Most of them are also individually teeming with ideas. Almost every phrase has a new motive: he’s more like Mozart in this, less like the spartanly economical Haydn and Beethoven.

There is music that is fun/rewarding to listen to and music that is fun/gratifying to play. They don’t always intersect. Scarlatti’s ideas are both exciting to hear and a joy for the hands and fingers. And for the arms: he’s big on extreme jumps and dramatic hand-crossings.

He also sounds like a beautiful person. Here’s his preface to the publication of the first 30 keyboard sonatas:

Reader, Whether you be Dilettante or Professor, in these Compositions do not expect any profound Learning, but rather an ingenious Jesting with Art, to accommodate you with the Mastery of the Harpsichord. Neither self-interest, nor ambition led me to publish them, but obedience. perhaps they may please you, in which case I may more willingly obey further commands to gratify you in a simpler and more varied style. Be therefore kind rather than critical, and your pleasure will be greater. To understand the disposition of the hands, be advised that the right is indicated with a D, and the left with an M. Live happily.

I realize this preamble belongs to a type—the self-abnegating sucking up to potential patrons—but still...“Be therefore kind rather than critical, and your pleasure will be greater...Live happily.” want to hang with that guy! And I feel lucky that in a way, we get to.



Free (cash or check only)

A central theme of this project is Vermont’s treasured sense of local community. I want to celebrate and also support the enduring vitality ...