on Klingon weddings and playing the Sci-Fi/Fantasy circuit

Jon Silpayamanant as a Klingon performing before a production of The Pirates of Penzance (in Outer Space) in New Albany, Indiana.

So, as I mentioned in the previous post, there is an embarrassment of riches as far as performing options are concerned, if you’re willing to think outside the box.  The past few years I’ve been playing the Sci-Fi/Fantasy circuit.  I hesitate to call it the “Sci-Fi/Fantasy Convention circuit” if only because some of the best paying gigs I’ve gotten recently happen to be at organizations outside of the Convention circuit proper.

And some of that has started to creep into the so-called ‘high arts’ realm with organizations such as Symphony Orchestras playing themed shows dedicated to particular Sci-Fi or Fantasy franchises (e.g. Lord of the Rings, Star Wars) as part of their pops seasons.

On the whole, however, there’s always been music at conventions–even if it only consisted of filk music.  Part of the Klingon schtick is as much act as play and the idea came to me as a whim after il Troubadore started playing Sci-Fi conventions at the request of some bellydancers.  We decided we needed our own act and schtick, thus was born the il Troubadore Klingon Music Project.

Ok, so I talk about the short series of events from bellydancer request to Sci-Fi convention to developing a full blown Klingon Band personae as if it’s an everyday thing.  But seriously, for me, it is.

That’s the specific issue at hand here.  Over the years I’ve heard all manner of musicians grouse about the lousy economy and the lack of work.  And here, I’m talking primarily about those musicians who do not hold full time or professional positions as musicians–this includes freelancers, but also just your normal everyday band musician.  I know I’ve brought up this issue plenty of times in the past, but don’t want to flood this post with a ton of links.

Continue reading “on Klingon weddings and playing the Sci-Fi/Fantasy circuit”


Why bellydancers, anyway? (part 3) “confessions of a bellydance musician”

This one is four years coming.  I can’t even remember if I ever posted the “part 3” or not, but was considering blogging about some things relating to being a being a dancers’ musician and thought I’d look up the blogs I’d done regarding this.  I still can’t believe I’d blogged those over four years ago, but there it is and here is part 3!  For those interested, here are part 1 and part 2.

As I recently gave another intervew to Julia Zay that is a part of a series of pieces talkin about contemporary bellydance musicians, some of the things we discussed have been on my mind lately especially regarding actual collaboration between dancers and musicians (in contrast to havin dancers dance to can music) and especially regarding copyright and licensing of music for perormances or media that will be sold (show DVDs, for example).

But a few amendments to the dance exposure I mentioned in the previous (part 2) installment of this blog series, since it has been some four years since that post.

  • I’ve since been dancing intermittently with the Louisville Ethnic Dancers when I’m actually in town and not gigging.  This has given me some valuable insight into dance from a dancers side, especially regarding how to have the right musical accents and style for particular dances.  I’d mentioned in a previous post the idea of having a “musical accent” and how that can get in the way of understanding how the music works with the dance,  This is where much of that experience is coming from.  As I also joined a Balkan band (primarily as a drummer with some singing), Kermes, in Bloomington Indiana I’ve gotten the chance to play tons of the Balkan, Eastern European and Western Asian tunes and styles that I learned how to dance to with the LED.  Also, one of the members of the group, Gergana, is from Bulgaria and is one of the folk dance teachers in Bloomington.
  • As I’ve also blogged about occasionally here, I’ve started up more intimate projects with individual dancers.  The first attempt, which hasn’t really gotten off the ground, was Natyasastra which was to focus on Indian Music and Dance (especially Bollywood).  Circumstances have prevented this particular project from doing live perfomances though that may still change in the near future.  Another project, Raks Makam, has actualy done some unofficial performances.  There’s been a line-up change as Taletha, who moved to Colorado, is no longer active dancing in my area.  She remains in an ‘artistic director’ type of position with the project while one of her dance students, Jessica Hamilton, takes up the reins of the dance.  This project focuses mainly on Central Asian dance and music.  The latest duo project, Secondhand, is probably the most active.  We call ourselves a “Experimental Vintage Goth” Bellydance and Music duo, and I’ve had great fun working with Celeste on trying new things.
  • Along with joining the Balkan band last year, I’ve been playing regularly with a Klezmer group, the River City Klezmer Band, and have gotten some great experience playing traditional Klezmer and Eastern European Jewish dance music.  Also, since 2008, I’ve been playing with Ahel El Nagam, a Classical Arabic Group based in Louisville.  We play much more traditional Middle Eastern music than what you might hear from me in, say, il Troubadore.  Lately I’ve been drumming for the group as we’ve also had a number of line-up changes, but it is really wonderful getting the chance to work on some of the classica bellydance tunes in a more traditional setting than I have in the past.

So, as you can see, I’ve expanded my collaborative projects to go well outside of working with just bellydancers and in a sense have come full circle at being a much more versatile musician for them.

At the same time, now that I’ve been actively working with other types of dancers, I get a different feel for dance culture and how dancers view music.  Working more intimately with dancers and in other bands have given me a different viewpoint on how dancers conceive of music as well as how different kinds of musicians view the music they are making for dancers. Continue reading “Why bellydancers, anyway? (part 3) “confessions of a bellydance musician””

the economics of underserved audiences (part 3): Baumol’s Curse and Liberation from Local Arts Organizations

William J. Baumol and William G. Bowen first described what is sometimes called Baumol’s cost disease in the Performing Arts in 1966.  The gist of the cost disease (which is just as applicable to sports, hospitals, and other fields where human labor cannot be replaced) is that all things considered, the labor cost in the Performance Arts will always rise at a faster rate than other industries and inflation since there are no effective means for increasing productivity since there is no way to replace human labor.  A Haydn string quartet needs four musicians today as it did in Haydn’s time.  Or as Baumol and Bowen put it

Human ingenuity has devised ways to reduce the labor necessary to produce an automobile, but no one has yet succeeded in decreasing the human effort expended at a live performance of a 45-minute Schubert quartet much below a total of three man-hours.

In the US, Orchestras are not publicly funded as they are in Europe, and rely heavily on the audience and donors (roughly a 40% and 60% amount respectively).  Ticket sales will never cut it; especially the larger the ensemble gets.  Even if an Orchestra were able to sell out each and every concert, the sales generated by the audience isn’t enough to cover the ever increasing cost of operations so a donor base is in many ways more important for these organizations.  With the current lag in both audiences and donor base, however, being able to fill the auditorium can go a long way towards showing some measure of relevancy to those with discretionary philanthropic money to give.

While mass media may be able to generate revenue some (but not enough) extra revenue (Dempster, 2000; Guerrieri, 2007) in digital media seems to be having a more pronounced effect (Sheridan, 2009; Midgette, 2011; Trescott, 2011).  With the ability to livecast being a more viable option for actually being able to increase the audience for live events there may be ways of using technology to expand the market for what was sets of individual fixed events (what the NEA surveys list as “Benchmark events”) in limited quantities (e.g. number of seats in an auditorium).

As it’s been a bit since I’ve posted in this series of the economic of underserved audiences, much of the above is an elaboration of the previous installment.  But the pattern of usage via new media technologies has been studied in a different context regarding ethnic populations.  Again, I turn to Waldfogel’s “The Tyranny of the Market: Why You Can’t Always Get What You Want” (2007).

Continue reading “the economics of underserved audiences (part 3): Baumol’s Curse and Liberation from Local Arts Organizations”

Audience Stereotypes, Gender and Race in Classical Music

The Sphinx Organization envisions a world in which classical music reflects cultural diversity and plays a role in the everyday lives of youth.

One of the outstanding things about the Classical Music field in the US is the relative gender equality you’ll find in the field.  Looking across the pond at some of the world class Orchestras (e.g. Berlin Philharmonic) and we can see that in many ways it is still a struggle to open up the field at a global level.  So while I was spending all those many years training and learning this craft of the cello I was constantly surrounded by and socialized with females, which is why one of the reasons it was a bit of a shock to move out into the local pop/rock music scenes in various cities [in the Midwest] was precisely because of some of the implicit misogynistic attitudes and explicit sexualization of women (cf.  Wright, 2011).   Add to that the relative gender imbalance in favor of “boys” and in some ways it’s not entirely surprising this could be the case.

That’s not to say that there aren’t still problems in the field.  Robert Levine (2009) took an informal look at the percentages of women in the top paying positions in Orchestras and still finds the proportions skewed in favor of males holding those positions.  While the blind audition has become the standard by which US Orchestras funnel musicians into the Orchestras, this process can do little to change the proportion of folks who are part of the pool of applicants for Orchestral positions and when it comes to specific instruments there is an obvious self selection bias with regards to the types of instruments men and women (boys and girls) will choose to play in the first place.

And this is obviously the problem with the pool of applicants from minority groups.  As Levine (2009) says near the end of his piece

The reader who has made it this far might have noticed that there’s been no discussion of the one form of discrimination that, above all others, has determined the nature of American society – racial discrimination. And yet American orchestras have proportionally far fewer African-American or Latino members than does the population as a whole. Does this suggest that there has been racial discrimination in the hiring process?

More data would be needed to state that with any confidence. If, as is likely the case, the number of African-American or Latino musicians entering the orchestral training pipeline is also disproportionately low, then the low number of such musicians hired could simply indicate a self-selection problem. Given that auditions for the largest orchestras regularly attract hundreds of applicants, it would take more than a handful of minority candidates to make hiring one at all likely. Fortunately for orchestras, there are organizations in the field, such as the Sphinx Organization that are working hard to increase the number of minority instrumentalists. (For a different perspective on this issue, read the “In Pursuit of Diversity in Our Orchestras” by Aaron Dworkin, Founder and President of the Sphinx Organization.)

Continue reading “Audience Stereotypes, Gender and Race in Classical Music”





Just a quick note. Paul Katz has started a website titled CelloBello which is a fantastic resource for all things cello. I watched all of his videos regarding bowing technique and it’s so nice to know that what I’ve been teaching my students is something that is accepted as the “norm” with this fantastic and distinguished cellist!

As some of you have noticed, I missed another day of blogging yesterday – the second I’ve missed in over a month of blogging at my new site.  I apologize but I’ve been working on a Klingon Costume–pretty much spent all night last night working on this, but more about that later.  For now, just enjoy CelloBello–and don’t forget to check out the blog–it’s a multi-user blog with posts by some international cello stars like Yeesun Kim (of the Borromeo String Quartet with whom I’ve played a masterclass), Alicia Weilerstein and Paul Katz himself amongst many others!

Continue reading “CelloBello”