Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Itzkoff/Nemith Schubert Recording Now Available

My newest CD recording of Schubert's violin and piano music is now available for purchase at CD Baby.com. Cincinnati Symphony violinist Gerald Itzkoff and myself recorded three of Schubert's violin and piano works: the Fantasia in C major, the Sonata (or Sonatina) in D major and the Sonata in A major. Both of us are very pleased to have been able to present the extremely challenging Fantasia on this recording. It is one of Schubert's lengthy late masterpieces and imposes many daunting technical and musical difficulties on the performers.

The CD can be ordered for $15.00 or for digital download for $9.99. Use the button below to connect to the CD Baby web page:

GERALD ITZKOFF AND JOSHUA NEMITH: Schubert: Works for Violin and Piano, Vol. 1

All of the tracks can be previewed through downloadable short excerpts of about 30 seconds. I am also adding a permanent linked button to my sidebar on the right, under the heading "My Recordings." I hope that people will find it to be an enjoyable interpretation of these classic works!

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Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Duo Recital with Violinist Jessica Hung

DPO concertmaster Jessica Hung and myself are offering a free community recital in Kettering on Sunday, March 15. The location is Kettering Seventh Day Adventist Church and the time of the performance is 4:30 PM.

We will be playing an exciting and eclectic program of works by Beach, Handel, Prokofiev, Debussy, and Beethoven. See the full program at the DPO website.

Kettering Seventh Day Adventist Church
3939 Stonebridge Road
Kettering, Ohio 45419

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Tuesday, January 6, 2009


BIG EARS 09 is a very promising new music festival coming up this winter. I may even plan to go myself. I'm a big fan of Michael Gira, Pauline Oliveros, and Philip Glass (sometimes...) See details below:

Big Ears will be held in Knoxville, Tennessee February 6,7,8, 2009. The mission of Big Ears is to offer an exciting and dynamic platform of musical and artistic discovery, presenting a variety of adventurous, exploratory concerts and performances, installations, discussions, and interactive experiences by artists possessed of singular and unique visions that stand apart from the mainstream. Confirmed artists performing over the course of the weekend are Phillip Glass, Antony and The Johnsons, Fennesz, Matmos, Michael Gira (Angels of Light/Swans), The Necks, Jon Hassell + Maarifa Street, Pauline Oliveros, Negativland and many more to be announced.

The event will occur in multiple venues located within walking distance of one another throughout downtown Knoxville. In addition there will be lectures, art installations, films and much more.

Info about Knoxville: http://tiny.cc/cepIB
Big Ears site: http://bigearsfestival.com/

-Thanks to Bob Deck of Ace Entertainment/ConcertWire.com for the heads-up and description.

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Sunday, November 9, 2008

Guest Essay by Christopher Chaffee: The Origins of the Dayton Philharmonic Orchestra

My good friend and colleague Dr. Christopher Chaffee recently submitted the following essay to me, which details the socio-economic climate for the musical arts in Dayton in 1933. 1933 was the year of the very first concert performed by the Dayton Philharmonic Orchestra. Dr. Chaffee's essay appeared in the program for the DPO's 75th anniversary concert, presented last spring at the Dayton Art Institute. Today we find ourselves caught up in the most severe economic turbulence since the Great Depression of the 1930s. Yet even back in those times, new ideas and fresh starts for musical ensembles came out of the chaos. Perhaps this can give us some hope that music institutions will, with vital help from supportive communities, perservere through this current crisis.

The Origins of the Dayton Philharmonic Orchestra

We are here tonight to celebrate and recreate a remarkable achievement. After they finished their first concert in 1933, Paul Katz and his musician friends probably had no idea what would take place over the next seventy-five years. Katz did have a vision of a permanent orchestra for Dayton, and within the next ten years, this dream became a flourishing reality. Look where we are today! This is the joyful culmination but we need to go to the beginning and consider two fundamental questions- why an orchestra, and why here in Dayton?

At the turn of the 20th century, there were less than twenty orchestras in the United States. By 1940 there were more than three hundred. A complex web of social factors contributed to this explosive growth, but here are three that are most relevant to the founding of the DPO:

• Millions of European immigrants arrived in the United States, often settling in cities like Dayton. Unlike their home countries, there were no royal courts or opera houses to sponsor ensembles, so in typical American fashion, orchestras driven by entrepreneurial spirit emerged to meet the strong desire for great symphonic music many of these immigrants shared.

• With the advent of the radio and phonograph, Americans moved away from the idea of active music making in the home to passive consumption of music. This coincides with the rise of greater spending power for the middle and lower classes, especially in the 1920s. More families considered purchasing concert tickets a normal form of entertainment instead of something for special occasions only, leading to a burgeoning interest in live music.

• As cities of all sizes matured from fledgling to established, a sense of civic pride and local identity emerged, often of a competitive nature. Communities considered cultural institutions essential centerpieces of this identity, and civic leaders and local corporations worked together to foster a sense of pride by sponsoring them.

If this fertile social context was not in place, one could argue that Paul Katz’s experiment would have failed. The Great Depression was a barrier, but not as much as we might think today. Even at the height of the Depression, music was an essential part of everyday life. Cash-strapped families often sold all their other possessions but kept their radios during this difficult period. Prior to the 1930s, Dayton heard plenty of symphonic music performed by touring or regional ensembles. It was Paul Katz’s singular vision coupled with the enthusiastic support of the community that created a homegrown orchestra comprised of local musicians.

As the Dayton Philharmonic continues to grow and change with the times, this community support is essential. Paul Katz’s 1 June 1933 concert was a daring idea that set seventy-five years of great music and local pride in motion. Let us make sure that the next seventy-five years are just as amazing.

-Christopher Chaffee, Assistant Professor of Music, Wright State University

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Monday, October 13, 2008

Freelancing in the “New” Economy (Part 2)

This is the next installment post about ideas for retooling freelance careers. See Part One for the first four ideas.

Here are more ideas for making a living as a freelance musician in a precarious economy :

5) Get a church job.

Here's another one that is mostly intended for keyboardists, though some of the bigger places are now employing larger ensembles that can involve other instruments. These jobs can be about as secure as it gets for a musician. People will still go to church in good times and bad, and a recession might just make attendance go up! Look for these gigs on the web and be sure you're on the call list at your local union or college career services office for church work. If you can play a little organ that makes you even more valuable as a candidate. (See #7 below.)

Having a church job can also be very healthy for a classical musician, and I'm not necessarily talking about the religious aspect. It puts you into a whole new social circle and opens up an entire community to you that can help provide some needed perspective. I know a lot of musicians who seem to really know only other musicians, and this can get insular and tired. One of the things in my life that keeps me "close to the ground" is my supportive community at the church. They can also all be potential audience members for your other performances as well.

Here's another benefit – you might get a lot more work once you've settled into a church gig. I have gained private students from families at the church, and I can also make additional income for weddings and funerals. (Please see my post on playing for funerals for guidance if you do not know much about this kind of work.) As I have said before, even in a recession people will continue to marry each other and they will also continue to pass on. It's a fact of life. You might as well be the one who gets paid to provide the music.

If you're lucky to be in a place that supports a concert series, you could really have an excellent situation fall right into your lap. Not only could you be involved in committee work (an experience that is valuable in itself) but you could get opportunities to program your own concerts. It can provide a wonderful outlet for doing some chamber music or solo recitals.

6) Pursue an adjunct appointment at a college or university, or provide tutoring for students.

Let me preface by saying that adjunct work is not all it is cracked up to be. (See this excellent article on the drawbacks.) There are no benefits, pay is skimpy, and there is not much hope for promotion. It is most definitely not suited to some musicians. But if you can get into a good situation as a freelancer, you may be in for a pleasant surprise.

I can vouch for teaching coursework at the adjunct level rather than private lessons. Teaching private lessons as an adjunct professor can be grueling and worth very little financially. But coursework can be different. The first time you teach a course is the most difficult since you need to research and prep everything basically from scratch (especially if your class does not use a textbook). But once you have done the course a few times, your workload can actually diminish. I have taught a chamber music literature course at UC-CCM two times (so far), and the amount of prep-time for last year's class was 50% of what I had to do the first year. It is true that when you do a course for the first time, you are earning less than minimum wage for your time. But the thing to keep in mind is that the first year is basically an investment – you won't need as much time in the future once the groundwork for the course is laid.

I want to assert that I do not condone simply recycling coursework year-over-year, which is common practice for some adjuncts. Ethically speaking, adjuncts should keep modernizing and updating their material in order to continue to be effective teachers. The worst situation for students is to be stuck with some uncaring adjunct who hasn't incorporated important new field research for twenty years. Don't be that professor.

But even with the need to evaluate and develop new material, adjunct coursework can be quite friendly to your schedule after the initial year. It's not gravy and you may be better off in the long run with #4 from Part 1, but if you can find the right niche it can be rewarding and fun part-time work.

In a recession, it is possible that the need for adjuncts may increase. As full salaried professors retire, more and more of the full-time positions are being split up into adjunct positions so that the institutions save money. While it is beyond the scope of this post to discuss all of the implications of this (most of which are NOT good), it could be a good thing for a freelancer looking for an additional (small) paycheck.

In lieu of adjunct work, tutoring could be a consideration for those who have good academic skills and a reputation in the community as a knowledgeable mentor. If you are a whiz at theory or have a knack for music history, there may be a whole pool of graduate students who could benefit from tutoring. Find out if the local university music department requires qualifying exams for their graduate students, then alert teachers that tutoring is an option for students who need help with preparation. This option has the added benefit of little to no start-up cost (outside of pertinent texts on your subject material); another one is that word-of-mouth "marketing" might be all that is needed to keep the community aware of your tutoring business.

7) Get comfy with the other instruments in your instrumental family.

The more instruments you can play competently, the more work you will get. I won't speak for clarinetists who can play saxophone or guitarists who can hammer away on a mandolin. They can write their own posts. But I can definitely speak for the keyboard group! I can estimate accurately that a full 20 to 25 percent of my performance work comes from continuo work on harpsichord or organ. It is extraordinary to me that pianists rarely learn the other keyboard instruments! The real world (the one that writes checks) will not care that much if you can play Rach 3. (They could always get Yefim Bronfman.) On the other hand, if you can play continuo parts for Baroque suites and large ensemble pieces (e.g., Handel's Messiah requires BOTH organ and harpsichord continuo parts) you could find yourself getting paid next week.

Now that I'm a working "stiff" in an urban setting, it is becoming more and more clear to me that the conservatory schools spend way too much energy focusing on training people for solo careers. (This subject may be suited to a separate, longer, and more heated post…) I received absolutely no training whatsoever on organ or harpsichord in my TEN years in degree coursework. I know of what I speak – I've attended three different institutions and in none of these places did anyone even encourage me to get even just a tiny bit comfortable with the other instruments. This reveals an incredible lack of insight about the field. Sometimes performance professors just don't really know what goes on outside of their little ivory tower studios…

But I digress. The point is that people actually really LIKE Baroque and Classical ensemble pieces (I just played organ continuo in a Schubert mass last week) so they will always be an important feature of classical music programming. If you can be the go-to gal for harpsichord or organ work, you may be in yet another "recession-proof" situation. I've got my Messiah gig before Christmas. Do you?

8) Join or start up a local rock band/jazz combo/experimental ensemble.

Classical musicians are notorious for their inability (or unwillingness) to engage in different styles and genres that require improvisation (I include myself). While I have not pursued this option in recent years, there is no reason why others cannot. Heck, you can even start just a simple cover band and get work in bars and clubs around town. (This won't happen overnight of course.) You might not even have to learn a different instrument. If you can write some tunes, get yourself a cool group name, and market yourself like crazy, you could end up like these guys.

You could also start an experimental group of varying instrumentation. One could find a unique market niche with this approach. One of my favorite ensembles in the country, pulsoptional, is a self-professed "band of composers" that plays all kinds of music that defy genre classifications. They are a good example of what I am talking about here.

9) Finally – one more! You could change careers.

Wow, what a cop-out, I can hear detractors say. But this might not be as drastic as you think. The idea is not to give up professional music-making, but rather make it your part-time job. Many people today work more than two jobs (most simply need to in order to just pay the bills) so why can't a musician? Because you won't have time to practice, right? I say "deal with it."

Even if you work forty hours a week, a hard worker could manage to keep at music-making on the side. One of the keys to being an active professional musician is maintaining efficient practicing strategies anyway, so there really is no reason why someone can't work a day job and moonlight as a musician. It could be much more secure than trying to scramble for gigs all the time. You could pick and choose what you actually want to do as well, rather than having to take that dreaded gig that pays you less than dirt.

I have always liked the story of pianist Jon Nakamatsu. He was a high school German teacher when he won the Cliburn competition in 1997. He never went to a conservatory and never pursued a music major in college. His background provides proof of what a determined musician can accomplish while doing something else for a living. Granted, he doesn't need to teach high school anymore, but look at how he got there.

I can foresee plenty of problems with this choice for many musicians. (For example, if you have kids this kind of thing could be difficult.) But I feel that too many people in the business overlook this option, perhaps out of emotional needs or because of fears of stigmatization in the musical community. There is no shame in career change – people do it all the time. Liberating yourself from the stress of needing to freelance for income could provide huge benefits – not just to your income, but also in terms of health, job satisfaction, and other important life aspects that musicians sometimes ignore at their own peril.


Well, there you have it! Those are some of my ideas for shoring up freelancers' work in this difficult economic environment. In the future I will also try to give some additional side "pointers" in an addendum to these posts. If anyone would like to expand on topics I didn't cover, please comment. Good luck out there, fellow freelancers!

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