Discovering your Band or Orchestra’s Roots

One of the local research projects I’ve been working on is charting the evolution of Classical Music in Kentuckiana (i.e. the Louisville-Jefferson County, KY-IN MSA). Being one of the MSA’s which lies over two states, this makes some of the data gathering a little trickier, but lately I’ve decided to focus very specifically on New Albany, Indiana which is where I currently live and where I spent most of my school years before going to music school.

After the recent passing of Rubin Sher and Don McMahel, two giants of music education in this area, I decided it might be time to really get my hands dirty with data in honor of them and all the other music teachers still with us that I’ve had the honor and pleasure of working with since I’ve moved back.

Continue reading “Discovering your Band or Orchestra’s Roots”

[Music] entrepreneurship will favor the very few and marginalize the vast majority

The title of this post is from a recent piece by Andy Lee taking to task some things that Claire Chase (Artistic Director and CEO of the International Contemporary Ensemble) said at a convocation address at Bienen School of Music at Northwestern University. The full quote is actually in the comments section of the piece:

I think a slight clarification on (what I hoped to make) the thrust of my piece would be that I’m saying that entrepreneurship under current conditions will favor the very few and marginalize the vast majority. I’m not saying it isn’t a path to success, but I see it as the great hope that others seem to.

Continue reading “[Music] entrepreneurship will favor the very few and marginalize the vast majority”

Jim Carrey, Steve Martin, Classical Music, and why you might not want to follow your passion…

I’m sure most of you have seen the recent Jim Carrey commencement speech (or at least the shortened clickbait version).  If not, here’s the short one:

Archived Video link

While it is inspirational and uplifting if we put aside some of the issues of privilege in Carrey’s situation which I’ve been having discussions about with some folks elsewhere, this piece, Dear graduates: Don’t follow your dreams (A commencement speech for the mediocre), by Tim Donovan reiterates what I’ve talked about regarding Survivorship Bias in two previous posts. Interestingly, Donovan’s piece isn’t specifically a response to Carrey’s speech as the post was published two days prior to the Maharishi University of Management Graduation.

Continue reading “Jim Carrey, Steve Martin, Classical Music, and why you might not want to follow your passion…”

Opera: “I’m not dead!”


With all the talk about San Diego Opera, the Met Opera, and a bit further back, the closure of New York City Opera we might be quick to say that Opera is a dying art form in the US. Indeed, a recent NAI report shows that Opera attendance is steadily declining from a recent high in 2007 of 3,568,000 to 2,304,000 in 2011 (of course, this report is also showing increased attendance at Symphony Concerts from ’09 – 25,443,000 to ’11 – 26,812,000 — more than 10 million more than the declining NFL audiences in all three years. But these are besides the point.

Eamon Pereyra (from left) plays Jaquino, Cassandra Black is Leonore and Erica Schuller plays Marzelline in “Fidelio.”
Eamon Pereyra (from left) plays Jaquino, Cassandra Black is Leonore and Erica Schuller plays Marzelline in the Bollywood version of “Fidelio” by the Skylight Music Theatre.

Bill Eddin’s recent post is by guest blogger, Viswa Subarraman, conductor and Artistic Director of the Skylight Music Theatre in Milwaukee. Subarraman and Skylight recently produced a Bollywood version of Fidelio and the director has some things to say about the San Diego Opera’s decision to call it quits.

San Diego is choosing to go quietly into that good night. The rest of us are choosing to fight to preserve an incredible 200+ year old art form. You know how? By doing great theater. Would we love to hire the Renee Flemings of the world? Sure! But let’s be real – it ain’t gonna happen in Milwaukee. So what can we do? We can find the future Renee Flemings of the world and give them a shot at learning and honing their craft, so they can go on to those big paychecks and big stages. I’m very proud of companies such as ours and Fort Worth Opera that seem to nurture the next generation of great opera singers. It’s also great for our audience – they have the opportunity to see these wonderful artists develop right before their eyes. We also focus on our communities.

Subarraman says, “It is sad to me that a company with the resources that San Diego has doesn’t understand that downsizing, creating variety in their programming, finding young, talented singers (read cheaper) to mix with the stars on stage isn’t diluting the art form. It’s called progressing the art form.

and closes with the admonition to

Try things. You might find that you actually diversify your audience base, which might allow you to start raising even more money. Funny how that can work in so many cities where we create magic with our “diluted” companies! I’m sorry to see San Diego lose its opera company, but man… what an opportunity for some creative opera people to take those resources and bring great art to a community that still wants it.

This echoes a piece I read (thanks to You’ve Cott Mail) by Mary Wisniewski discussing all these big Opera Organizations failing while a plethora of smaller and new opera companies are cropping up all around Chicago–which shouldn’t detract from the fact that the Chicago Lyric has seen its ticket sales up 15 percent for fiscal year 2013.

The smaller Chicago Opera Theater (COT), known for out-of-the-box productions like Duke Ellington’s “Queenie Pie,” last year saw a 20 percent jump in subscribers, said general director Andreas Mitisek.

New companies have sprung up as well. Haymarket Opera Company specializes in the Baroque era, and South Shore Opera Company has done shows using African-American casts, including William Grant Still’s “Troubled Island.”


After my previous post, which discussed the Louisville based Thompson Street Opera Company (as well as my own Klingon Opera which premiered in Louisville), and after performing at Classical Revolution Cincinnati doing some arias from the Klingon Opera last year and getting to hear “The Bubble” by Jennifer Jolley and Kendall A. produced by NANOWorks Opera (North American New Opera Workshop) there, I’d say Opera is evolving and thriving in ways that the big organizations are masking due to all the media attention they get (that Negativity Bias at work again).

Of course, Opera’s death has been greatly exaggerated, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t evolving in ways that mass media representations of it can hope to show given the focus on big organizations. As Rosenberg notes in the link, “Slavoj Žižek and Mladen Dolar had upped the ante with Opera’s Second Death (2001). They argue that opera came into the world ‘stillborn,’ ‘as something outdated.’” and they “acknowledge that composers and wordsmiths go on writing operas, they insist that the genre remains ‘a huge relic’ and ‘an enormous anachronism.’

The irony being that in 2020 the Royal Opera in Britain has commissioned four new works for the 2020 season inspired by Žižek.

The Royal Opera will challenge leading European composers Kaija Saariaho (Finland), Mark-Anthony Turnage (UK), Luca Francesconi (Italy) and Jörg Widmann (Germany) to create large scale new operas. The vision is for four distinct operas, each one in part inspired by the composer’s response to a set of questions developed in collaboration with the philosopher Slavoj Žižek: “What preoccupies us today? How do we represent ourselves on stage? What are the collective myths of our present and future?”

In other somewhat related news, my interactive video and cello project, Camera Lucida, will be giving a performance and a talk/performance at The International Žižek Studies Conference next weekend. While we can only be there for one day of the conference and will not likely have much of a chance to interact with Žižek, our day talk/performance will focus on a piece we call “Fossils” which uses appropriated text which will be incorporated in the multi-media performance (with Acro-Dancers, Holly Price and Christopher Cox) both as a pre-recorded element and live by me.

Christine Olson dancing to Camera Lucida's "Fossils" at the Commonwealth Gallery in Madison, WI.  November 10, 2012
Christine Olson dancing to Camera Lucida’s “Fossils” at the Commonwealth Gallery in Madison, WI. November 10, 2012


The closest analogue I can think of to our performance would be the late, Robert Ashley’s “Different Lives” which is a completely different and more experimental way to approach opera.

Opera isn’t dead, it’s just changing far too fast for most people to understand and morphing into new forms and smaller, more nimble organizations which can produce works that can be a bit more experimental and exploratory. As long as we allow the Crisis folks to dominate the discourse, we’re not going to see much focus on this.

New New Music Groups in Louisville


As I mentioned in my previous post, at least five groups have been formed in the past couple of years which focus significantly or exclusively on new music in the Louisville area.  This is not to say that this exhausts the list of new and experimental groups in the area. For a mosre complete (but by no means exhaustive) list, please check out the ensembles and composers pages at the NuMuLu website. Now to the recently formed groups (and again–full disclosure: I’m involved with three of these group).

Camera Lucida (debut performance at the Commonwealth Gallery in Madison, WI on November 10, 2012)

Camera Lucida with dancers, Cherie Dawn and Holly Price, and special guest bassoonist, Jackie Royce, at Classical Revolution Cincinnati. January 12, 2014.
Camera Lucida with dancers, Cherie Dawn and Holly Price, and special guest bassoonist, Jackie Royce, at Classical Revolution Cincinnati. January 12, 2014.

While Camera Lucida, my interactive video, cello, and electronics project had its debut in Madison, Wisconsin, we do play the majority of our shows in the Greater Louisville Metro area. In the nearly 18 performances we’ve given since November 2012, only three have been well out of the area (St. Louis, Indianapolis, Madison). Here’s a video of one of our most recent performances at Dreamland premiering my piece, “Before Anaesthesia,” (February 27, 2014):

We also collaborate with local and touring musicians, dancers, like the Moving Collective, T.J. Borden, and my other new music group, the Mothership Ensemble.

Mothership Ensemble (debut performance at The Bard’s Town in Louisville, KY on December 9, 2012)

The Mothership Ensemble performing Louis Andriessen's "Worker's Union" at IU Southeast's Steifler Recital Hall on March 15, 2014. Interactive video projections by Roxell Karr.
The Mothership Ensemble performing Louis Andriessen’s “Worker’s Union” at IU Southeast’s Steifler Recital Hall on March 15, 2014. Interactive video projections by Roxell Karr.

I’d been having conversations with a number of local composers about starting a new music ensemble. Since a number of musicians at IUS and I have been performing works by composer, Rachel Short, it made sense to just give ourselves a name and start expanding.  The name was something of a fluke, and accident–which adds to the charm, so we were dubbed the Mothership at our first official outing as an actual new music group rather than just an arbitrary collection of musicians performing new works. The Mothership Ensemble functions something like a “community orchestra” in that we have players of a wide variety of skill levels and in various stages of their career as musicians.

Music students from UofL School of Music, IUS, members of the IUS Orchestra and other local, non-affiliated, musicians and amateur musicians get together to rehearse two times a week (once on the Indiana side and once on the Louisville side) and only ever fully play with each other as we do a show. We focus on large scale contemporary works with open instrumentation and smaller chamber works often written by local composers including me and co-founder, Rachel Short.  We’re pleased to have composer, Jacob Gotlib, as an artistic adviser.  I suppose we’ll have to call him Dr. Gotlib soon as he has just finished his dissertation in composition at SUNY.  The group numbers close to 20 musicians but the most we’ve had for any one performance is 12, I believe.

The Mothership ensemble isn’t the only large chamber group doing new music in the area.

Orchestra Enigmatic (debut performance at St Francis In The Fields Episcopal Church in Harrods Creek, KY on January 25, 2013)

Members of Orchestra Enigmatic warming up on the Shostakovich 8th String Quartet before the evening concert at St. Francis in the Fields. January 25, 2013.
Members of Orchestra Enigmatic warming up on the Shostakovich 8th String Quartet before the evening concert at St. Francis in the Fields. January 25, 2013.

This chamber orchestra had 18 performers (plus a baritone soloist) for their debut concert which included Terry Riley’s “In C” as well as works by Haydn, Barber, and Shostakovich.  As we can see the group pairs up new music with old–as their Facebook page states:

A new chamber orchestra in Louisville Ky, we seek to play good music, be it new or old. We’ll play Reich, we’ll play Tenney, and we’ll play them in the context of Beethoven, Bach, and Brahms.

Here’s some audio from their second concert of Dadá Malheiros’ “Baião Armorial” (world premiere):

The concert included Beethoven’s 2nd Symphony and another world premiere by P. Kellach Waddle’s “At the Snowy Bourbon Winter’s Twilight, Impression-Satz fur Kammersinphonie,” also a world premiere.

A/tonal (debut concert at Steifler Recital Hall in New Albany, IN on March 1, 2014)

A/tonal performing at the Steifler Recital Hall at IU Southeast in New Albany, IN. March 1, 2014
A/tonal performing at the Steifler Recital Hall at IU Southeast in New Albany, IN. March 1, 2014
A/tonal is another group which features both old and new music.  As their Facebook page states:
Contemporary music ensemble bridging the gap between traditional and new music with unique musical experiences.
The primary instrumentation is flute (Amy Ensel), clarinet (Carrie Ravenscraft), and piano (Jessica Dorman).  Cellist, Felix Borges (in the Orchestra Enigmatic quartet photo above), joined the group for the world premiere of one of two resident composers’ (Daniel Gilliam) works, “The Aggregate of Our Joy and Suffering,” which included a projected video by local video artist and filmaker, Ryan Daly.  See an excerpt of the performance in the video below:

Composer, Erich Stem, rounds out the group. The program of their performance was posted at their Facebook page, here, rather than in a more traditional printed programs.  As they state in their Facebook event:

A/Tonal was created with a mission to present music without the typical concert traditions. No paper program, no dress code, and phones on (but on silent) to share on your experience on Facebook at and Twitter @atonalensemble or with the hashtag #atonalshow

Eight.dB (will debut in summer of 2014)

Nate Tucker's "Choose Your Own Adventure" graphic score which will be premiered on Eight.dB's first show.
Nate Tucker’s “Choose Your Own Adventure” graphic score which will be premiered on Eight.dB’s first show.

The latest group is Eight.dB, which had its first rehearsal last weekend. As the Facebook page says, “8dB is an experimental new music collective founded by Tim Miller and based in Louisville, KY.”

Lineup is currently:

Traci Bluhm – FLUTES
John Moore – TENOR SAX
Russell Shartzer – TUBA
Adrienne Fontenot – PIANO
Sara Soltau – VIOLIN
Jon Silpayamanant – CELLO
Claire DiVizio – SOPRANO

This is the other new new music group I’m involved with and we’ll be focusing a lot on group improvisation, graphic scores and non-traditional notations, and electro-acoustic performance–all pretty standard new music techniques. I’m currently working on a graphic score which will be projected and manipulated in real-time (I’ll probably blog about this in the near future) which the group will perform at our first show.


And that rounds out the new new music groups in the area, and shows a wide variety of performance styles, instrumentation, and size.  Given that the Louisville Orchestra will also be featuring a number of contemporary pieces and world premieres during their next concert season, the Louisville area is just brimming full of new music awesomeness.  Add in the already flourishing underground experimental scene and University related computer, and improvised new music activity it shouldn’t be a surprise that one can easily find a show with new music to attend nearly every day of this month, and with luck the future!

Visit the NuMuLu website for info about New and Experimental Events in the Great Louisville Metro Area: