In a captivating performance on Wednesday night, Eunbi Kim and Laura Yumi Snell crafted a new kind of performance art, a new kind of presentation format for live classical music and a new message for contemporary performing artists. With the spell-binding production of Murakami Music, Eunbi and Laura made it clear that if you are willing to take big risks– your art will thrive.
It’s taken me several days to begin to write this review (for lack of a better term) of their performance. I’ve been thinking about the experience, what I took away from it, and how in the world I would try to explain it to you. I knew that a simple recap would never do it justice. This post is going to be much more detailed than other reviews I’ve done; for when I get the opportunity to write about something that absolutely embodies the core ideals of Tuxedo Revolt, I have to be able to share it with all of you.
When Eunbi first told me about her idea for Murakami Music, I featured the concept in a post back in January. If you aren’t familiar with this project or need a refresher– click here. Last week’s performance took place at The Cell Theatre in Chelsea. It was the perfect venue, living up to its definition as a 21st Century Salon. I must give a great deal of credit to the founding artistic director of the Cell Theater, Nancy Manocherian for her vision for such an innovative, elegant and multi-functional performance space. For a hybrid music/drama project like Murakami Music, the Cell provided a fresh and blank canvas for Laura and Eunbi to explore throughout their performance. But now— onto the performance itself.
Merely listing the order of events, pieces played, and highlights of the evening isn’t appropriate. I found Murakami Music to be so intellectually stimulating that I realized I would need to analyze the performance like a painting, or a piece of literature. This was no concert– it was a full-out experience.
When you consider that the project was based on passages of Murakami’s writings, combined with a performance of musical selections referenced in his novels, a book reading with musical examples is the first thing that comes to mind. The project’s director Kira Simring anticipated this perception and skillfully transcended it. As the program began, artist LauraYumi Snell read from a copy of Murakami’s book– as we might have expected. Then, as Laura continued to recite passages from the novel, Eunbi began to delicately introduce the solo piano into our field of perception. Laura continued to read aloud, but gently closed the book, all the while still reciting Murakami’s text. The dramatic narrative from the text then took on a life of its own. With flawless transition, our descent into the world of Murakami Music had begun.
This performance was focused on engaging the audience at all times. Murakami’s texts, so skillfully dramatized by both Laura and Eunbi, shared a symbiotic relationship with the music of Chopin, Debussy, Prokofiev and other composers whose music was featured in the performance. Spoken word and live music gave meaning and context to each other. Audience members who had never read the works of Murakami were introduced to his world of dual meaning and pensive emotion through beautiful music with similar dramatic properties. Audience members who were not familiar with solo piano music were introduced to it in way that they could begin to understand its emotional depth as it echoed the emotions of the unfolding drama.
For the music-must-stand-alone-as-its-own-art-form critics who are reading this, I must say that Eunbi and Laura created a performance where both music and drama took equal roles. The music, brilliantly executed by both Eunbi and Laura, was in no way impeded by the precisely planned and well chosen texts they also presented. Under the gifted guidance of Kira Simring, the pair used both music and drama to appeal to the senses of sound, sight, and spatial awareness. As an audience member, I was on edge waiting for what was to come next.
Transitions between scenes and musical selections were handled flawlessly and the performance never lost its momentum. I am most critical of transitions between events when I attend performances. These are the moments when audience members are not lost in their own thoughts, but rather present with you and in the moment. Transitions present a golden opportunity to introduce new themes, new ideas and new energy. Too often, transitions seem like TV commercial breaks, interrupting the flow of a performance and flat-lining the energy of the overall experience.
Murakami Music reminded me of why the tradition to hold applause until the end of a performance came to be in be first place. Once upon a time, musical performances were so captivating to audiences that no one dared to release the energy or flow of a performance until the event was truly finished. Audiences didn’t know what to expect as the next great work began to unfold. Finally, at the end of the performance, the moment came for the audience to express appreciation for the performers and to release through applause the energy that was building within each audience member throughout the performance.
As the final tableau in Murakami Music drew to a close, I glanced around at my fellow audience members. I saw young and old on the edge of their seats, leaning forward, captivated and ready it burst into applause. When the final note of Prokofiev’s Sonata No. 2 in d minor, op. 14 sounded, we the audience, finally had our moment to thank the artists who performed for us. It was truly a genuine exchange of gratitude.
When I am able to attend such a great performance, I am inspired to keep writing this blog. I am refreshed and reassured that through adaptation and innovation, live performing arts can still be socially relevant and meaningful to audiences. With its solo piano and stage absent of scenery and props, Murakami Music brought to my mind images from the great American playwright Thornton Wilder‘s Our Town. When the audience is challenged to use its imagination, but is guided to do so, there is a freshness to the performance and each audience member walks away with a unique and memorable experience.
I’m reminded of a line from Our Town spoken by the character Emily Webb, “Live people don’t understand, do they? They’re sort of shut up in little boxes, aren’t they?”
In Murakami Music the audience shared in an emotional journey together. We heard live music and spoken words. We saw expression on the faces of the performers which led to an expansion of our own sense of empathy. And for just a little while, we weren’t shut up in the little boxes of ourselves. As an audience we shared in the experience together, and it became ours.
Congratulations to Eunbi Kim, Laura Yumi Snell, Kira Simring and the Cell Theatre for a performance that was truly in the in the spirit of Tuxedo Revolt.
- Haruki Murakami’s new novel reaches 1 million print run in one week (japandailypress.com)
- You: New Murakami novel tops 1 million (japantimes.co.jp)
- Haruki Murakami’s new release: Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki (themindsplace.wordpress.com)
Spring is here and with it–Easter. For musicians, the Easter holiday is one of our busiest times of the year. Churches and faith centers will typically spend more for extra musicians and grand performances at this time of year (and also at Christmas).
This year, I will be playing in a full orchestra for a church in Scarsdale, New York. The musicians who have been hired to play for the Easter services are professionals and along with the sacred music to be performed, we will also be playing Beethoven’s 7th Symphony in A Major.
Such a large scale work is somewhat uncommon for church services. However, at the first rehearsal, the music director shared with us that the orchestra’s performance each year is highly requested by parishioners. They ask for it year round, and many have shared with him how the music uplifts them and how it connects to their faith in various ways.
Though this story may be heartwarming, it also provides support to the idea that music is still very relevant our lives. Beethoven’s 7th Symphony is entirely secular. Yet, the great dance-like themes, the soaring melodies, and the brisk tempos have a way of lifting people up and stimulating them. The parishioners of this particular church feel as if the music affirms their beliefs.
Culturally, we’ve nearly always turned to music to help us make a point or emphasize a certain emotion or spiritual concept. That’s why we play music at graduations, wedding, and funeral services. Music helps us to share in an emotional state together.
On Easter Sunday, the church members will share in the joy of Beethoven’s great masterwork together–but Easter shouldn’t have to be the only time of the year when this happens. We need to encourage people to attend concerts and have this great and possibly cathartic experience more often. We should find better ways of sharing emotions with our audience members, we should use our music to create life-changing experiences. Clearly, the support for great music as demonstrated by the members of this particular church suggests that music can still be easily understood and uniquely interpreted by all.
Wouldn’t it be nice if there was music filled Easter all year long?
If there is but one rule to follow in the performing arts, this should be it. From individual artists and musicians, to small groups, to large performing arts organizations, this rule provides insight into how just a little more effort could leave our audiences not just satisfied, but thrilled.
Don’t misunderstand me. I am a professional musician and I know how much work goes into preparing even the most basic of performances. That’s why the first step to giving a little more is to stand back and take a look at all the positive and/or creative work you have done so far. Give yourself a pat on the back– because you deserve it. When you look at all the effort you’ve put forth to make great performances so far, you’ll be motivated to raise the bar and keep your momentum rolling.
A good thing about a “little extra effort” is that it truly can be just a little, and luckily for us, a little does go a long way. Here are some examples of small changes that can make a big difference. My examples include different scenarios with variable stakeholders, but the sky is the limit to how much more you can do…
For the individual musician to try:
At your next recital, plan to perform a simple, but joyful piece as an encore to your performance. After you have concluded your programmed repertoire, surprise your audience by thanking them directly for coming and dedicating the surprise encore to them. Why does it work? The audience doesn’t expect the unplanned piece. It wasn’t on the program notes. If you say something like “Thank you all so much for spending this evening with me. I can feel your warm appreciation, and to repay you, I will perform (work title). It’s my gift to you. Thank you again, and I do hope you enjoy it”, you deepen your connection to the audience and you show your own humility. The audience will leave feeling appreciated.
For the small ensemble to try:
Divide and conquer. Take the total amount of people on your group’s mailing list and divide it equally amongst your members. Each of you will then send a personal thank you note on the behalf of the group to your portion of the list. If there four of you in the group, repeat this 4 times a year. What’s the benefit? You audience members will receive 4 handwritten notes in a year’s time thanking them for their support. They will connect on an individual level with each group member, and because of that connection, they will be more likely to build a long-lasting relationship with your ensemble. Divide the work load, put forth the effort, reap the reward together.
For large organizations:
It is true that in a large organization, a little becomes a lot very quickly. A single thank you note to each patron quickly can become a thousand, and an extra encore piece can potentially cost and orchestra thousands of dollars in overtime. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t other ways to put forth a little more effort in the interest of your audience. For example, ask your key organizational members, both artists and administrators to participate in a post concert meet and greet with audience members while serving coffee and tea. Beforehand, have an orientation with those organizational members who will participate to prep them for the event. Coach them to use some key catch phrases like “Thank you so much for coming out to spend the evening with us!”, “What was your favorite part of the concert/ballet/opera? What made that moment special to you?”, “I’m so looking forward to performing (insert work) on our (series name) this season. What are you looking forward to experiencing with us?”
By asking these genuine and open-ended questions, you simultaneously establish memorable moments with audience members while gaining valuable insight as to how they experience your concerts. You also fortify your audience base because the concert no longer becomes an anonymous event for them.
As you can see, there so many directions to take your audience’s experience to the next level. Remember, a little can truly go a long way.
P.S. Special thanks to David Wallace for inspiring this post from his great work with audience engagement and always knowing how to give a little bit more than expected. Check out David’s book Reaching Out: A Musician’s Guide to Interactive Performance by clicking here.
This is an exciting post for me and marks a milestone for Tuxedo Revolt. Over the course of the next year, I’m featuring dozens of performing artists who take a fresh perspective on the performing arts in ways that are both slightly irreverent, but completely relevant. This is the first profile, of many, where I am privileged to introduce to you some of the amazing artists and organizations I have discovered that uphold the core values of the Tuxedo Revolt. Can I get a drumroll please..
Meet Duo Scorpio. Here’s what you should know about this ensemble at a glance.
Who: Kathryn Andrews and Kristi Shade, Harpists extraordinaire.
What: A harp duo that blows apart whatever you might think a harp duo is. These two professionals are in full control of every element of their work. Their mission is clear, and their drive for excellence is undeniable.
Where: Based in New York City
When: Established 2010
Why: When asked why they wanted to create a harp duo, Kathryn and Kristi said this:
“We were motivated to create Duo Scorpio because of the lack of original music for harp duo. We knew of a few pieces out there and really enjoyed them, but wanted to see more. We want to grow this repertoire for other harpists as well as for the classical music community in general. By bringing the harp and the harp duo into a new generation, we break barriers and end pre-conceived notions about the harp.
As for our specific duo and the two of us coming together, we were motivated by our shared passion, our similarities (not just the fact that we were born on the exact same day!) and our drive. We love playing in chamber settings, but love that the harp duo is able to fully showcase, feature and explore the harp’s capabilities.”
“Exploring the harp’s capabilities” is their modest way of saying breaking the stereotypes associated with the harp, blowing past many conceptions associated with classical music in general and utterly defying the conventional wisdom that a harp duo could survive, let alone thrive in the current climate of the performing arts.
If you want to learn more about the dynamic repertoire choices and new music that Duo Scorpio champions, you should check out their newly released album Scorpion Tales. This record features a newly commissioned work by composer Robert Paterson as well as other mind-bending works written specifically for harp duo. The commission and collaboration with Paterson was partially funded through a grant from the American Harp Society.
Duo Scorpio and the Tuxedo Revolt Ideals:
I sat down with Kristi and Kathryn a few days ago to dig a little deeper into their creative processes and their beliefs about the performing arts. I was intrigued to know if they thought about every element of performance as much as I do, that is to say, did they feel a responsibility to their art form to progress and advance it? At what point in their equation of success did consideration of the audience enter? Was it from the beginning concept or somewhere along the way? Here’s what they had to say.
In your opinion, what can performers do to enhance the audience’s experience?
“We think the most important thing they can do is connect. The audience needs to feel they are a part of an experience and need to feel your passion. The programming needs to make sense and needs to be exciting. Making it feel approachable and less like a stuffy classical performance. If you speak to your audience, you should explain and communicate without talking down to them.”
In what ways does Duo Scorpio make connections with your audience?
“We definitely try to make it an experience for the audience as well, not just for us on stage. We want them to feel the music as we do, and not just sit and listen. Speaking about and describing the pieces really makes a difference. We introduce each piece by speaking about the composer, the musical themes or story and also our connection to the piece. Since we either commission or work very closely with each composer (currently, all of our repertoire is by living composers), we have a real connection with each piece.”
“We also describe and demonstrate many of the effects used in harp writing. The harp remains a mystery to many so we try to make them aware of the sounds they are going to hear, as well as what specifically we have to do to achieve or create them.”
“Lastly, we share the story of our duo as well as our mission and passion to increase this repertoire and bring the harp duo into the 21st century. We hope this is interesting to people and gives them a sense of a connectivity to our group.”
The longer we discussed the mission of Duo Scorpio, two themes became increasingly apparent. Authenticity and Relevance rose to the forefront of the conversation again and again. Kathryn Andrews and Kristi Shade are completely aware of the importance these two themes in their professional lives and creative work. For them, it’s just not enough to put on black gowns and play transcriptions of Ravel’s Mother Goose Suite in art galleries and recital halls.
You can tell by talking to them, from the light in their eyes and the willingness to share their work with me that establishing a connection with the audience to, the music, to the instruments, and to themselves is just as important as being able to play this challenging music with flawless technique.
Duo Scorpio doesn’t just want you to listen then applaud them; they want you to understand that through their music, they have something to offer you. They can bend your perceptions, they can even transport you, or make you forget time altogether. I know this firsthand from watching them in live performance and confirming what I felt with other audience members.
From their unique choices in repertoire, to eclectic venues, to the high-end fashion photography used on their new album Scorpion Tales, to the casual dialogue with audiences at performances, to the sincerity and excellence with which they perform– Duo Scorpio fully accepts the responsibility that music is only one piece of the puzzle and that to be not only successful, but truly authentic, they must take ownership in every single aspect of all they do.
You can visit www.duoscorpio.comto learn more about Duo Scorpio’s upcoming performances and to hear some of their amazing music. Their next performance will be:
Nov. 11, 2012 | Culturefix | 7pm | 9 Clinton Street, New York, NY 10002
Stay tuned for more artist profiles coming your way,
- Duo Scorpio: Relevant, Hip…and Harps! (tuxedorevoltblog.wordpress.com)
- The Secret World of Musicians: How to Open Up to Your Audience (tuxedorevoltblog.wordpress.com)
I often have wondered what people who aren’t musicians imagine when they are asked to describe the life that we musicians lead. I’ve heard everything from, “Well, you get to play all day long”, “It’s just music, why do you take it so seriously” to “So what do you actually do?”
I used to get my tail feathers all messed up over statements like these. I would be so frustrated that “other people” did not understand the dedication it takes to master a piece of music, or the sacrifices, and sometimes, even physical injuries that result from trying to bring to life a work of art. Sometimes, the artist’s pain is not metaphorical at all, it can be all too literal. It wasn’t until recently that I discovered that I had no right to be frustrated with these kinds of common responses about “What does a musician do?” from people outside the field.
I realized that it is just as much our fault that people frequently don’t understand the ins and outs of our profession, well, because we don’t want them to know. Or so it seems.
“What do you mean we don’t want them to know?!”
I believe that in the traditional world of classical music, we don’t really make an effort to let our audience know the backstory behind how the performance they are about to see rose from an inanimate page of music to a charismatic performance in a live space. Does your audience know what it took to bring this performance to them: How many rehearsals it took, how many pieces were considered before the final repertoire was chosen, the amount of practice it took, any special circumstances that surrounded the performance?
“So do you want us to make the audience feel guilty about how hard we worked?”
NO! You should never want an audience to feel sorry for you, or that they are obligated in any way to support you. Rather, relating the journey of a particular performance from start to finish, can be a great way of showing commitment and/or devotion to your audience. It’s a great way to establish a personal connection where they can understand just how deeply the act of performing means to you and how much you have worked in order to present them with a great performance.
For example, you or your chamber ensemble plans to perform a recital music that features all contemporary Swedish composers. (That actually sounds very interesting to me!) But, assuming that you or your group has a large enough audience base that you have enough audience members willing to branch out and try something new, and assuming that you have prepared and polished the music to near perfection, and assuming that you have done a great job marketing your performance to new potential audience members, what will guarantee that your audience will make a connection to these works that are (most likely) far afield from the music that they know by heart? (and yes all you smarty-pants out there, I know that was a run-on sentence.)
Even if you give a flawless performance, there is more that you can do to help you audience connect with the music. Let’s just say that, hypothetically, this contemporary music you are playing is not only very difficult (good for you for taking it on!) but it may also be rigorously academic. But, because it is contemporary and the composer still happens to be alive, you can help the audience not only understand what this piece means to you, you can research and discuss the composer’s intent for the composition.
You could share this information via a short, informal conversation before the concert, or as each piece comes up on the program. You could create an awesome mini-documentary of no more than 3-4 minutes that discusses the process of bringing the live performance to the audience. As you can see, there is so much more that you can do besides program notes.
It’s all about perception. I’ve talked a lot on this blog about the importance of establishing a deep and meaningful emotional connection with your audience. There are many creative ways to do this. But, if you only plan to depend on making that connection through the music alone, then you should prepare yourself for the possibility of falling a bit short on your goal. You can harness the power of connection in other ways beyond your instrument to ensure that your performance is has a lasting impact.
- Build (a theme park) and They Will Come (tuxedorevoltblog.wordpress.com)
- How to be a Great Musician in 5 Easy Steps. (tuxedorevoltblog.wordpress.com)