Too Many Notes, too few orchestras

While reading the comments to a post by Drew McManus that I mentioned in my previous post, I came across a reference to a post that drew had written about the issue of having too many groups offering the same thing in a metropolitan area.

While Drew disagrees than in general there may be too much of this redundancy (as he responded) he does think there are some areas, like the Northern Virginia/Washington DC area he talks about in the post I linked, that do have a problem.  Drew seems to think it’s a dangerous idea for mergers, but at the same time he understands that in the case above that might actually help.  Anne Midgette’s snapshot of the German orchestral crisis post-unification would suggest the same.

But back to Drew’s points:

Although I was glad to see that there weren’t any duplicates between the four ensembles, they do have remarkably similar programming (but I give Alexandria a few extra points for programming more new works than their sister ensembles).  If you’re familiar with that area, you’ll also know that all four ensembles perform within eight miles of each other and two of them even perform in the same venue.

Granted, Northern Virginia is a densely populated area but doesn’t it seem reasonable to think that four full orchestras performing similar works for essentially the same audience is simply too many notes?

I have a different idea–what would happen if, say, one or more of these orchestras actually turned into a non-Western Orchestra?  Or what if the re-structuring made it possible to actually provide full symphonic works that were so Eurocentric?

For example, what if that Northern Virginia/DC area had, say, a full Arabic Orchestra, a full Chinese Orchestra, a full Mugham Orchestra in addition to the fourth full Symphony Orchestra?

There certainly wouldn’t be any overlap of programming, nor any duplicate composers in just one art music tradition.

I know, it’s a pipe dream–with the exception of special events American Orchestras don’t often program outside their 100 + year old niche of music from a region on this planet [Europe] that has less than a tenth of the world’s population.  But I know I would be as excited, if not more excited to be able to hear a full orchestra perform the masterworks of Mohammed Abdul Wahhab, Fikret Amirov, or Lü Ji.

I guess I’ll have to wait until the ethnic population(s) of the US reaches the critical mass able and willing to support these non-Western Orchestras–or until this century’s version of the Ford Foundation Grants spearheads “a major boost to [non-Western] orchestras’ quality, length of season and sustainability by providing endowment capital for orchestras that were able to raise matching funds from their communities .”

I guess the question is, if Western Orchestras are having difficulties then how will the non-Western Orchestras fare?  That’s what I’ve been trying to figure out and it is exciting to imagine the future!  Right now, though–there aren’t too many notes or too few orchestras.  Just not enough of the right balance of notes and orchestras.

Performance: Ahel El Nagam @ Sweet Surrender Dessert Cafe (Louisville, KY)

Ahel El Nagam
Ahel El Nagam performing at Shiraz Mediterranean Grill in Louisville 24 July 2009

If you are reading this, it’s because it was written earlier today and set to future post as I will be performing at the Sweet Surrender Dessert Cafe in Louisville  (KY) when this autoposts.  The group I’ll be playing with is Ahel El Nagam, a Kentuckiana based Classical Arabic music group.

Ahel El Nagam’s bio:

Ahel El Nagam means, “people of the tune.” We are a new Middle Eastern music band in Louisville, KY. We were founded in April of 2007 and we are working hard to develop a repertoire full of traditional and classical Middle Eastern songs. We are available for cultural events, private parties, and shows at restaurants and coffee houses around Louisville as well as the greater tri-state (Indiana, Kentucky and Ohio) area.

More info about us and my relationship with the group may be found in a previous post.

Sweet Surrender is having a fundraiser for for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society.  Details for the day long event follow:

On Thursday, March 24, Sweet Surrender Dessert Café will host a fundraiser to benefit The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society. All day, from 10 AM to 10 PM, a sampling of 10 desserts will be offered for $15 per person. Coffee is included. A portion of the entire day’s proceeds will be given to The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society Team in Training.

A whole 10” cake and other prizes will also be raffled off. Tickets for the raffle can be purchased for $2.00 each throughout the week. All of the proceeds from the raffle will go directly to The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society.

In addition to great desserts and great prizes, live music will begin at 8 PM.

Continue reading “Performance: Ahel El Nagam @ Sweet Surrender Dessert Cafe (Louisville, KY)”

Thursday Rehearsal Reflections: Ahel El Nagam

Ahel El Nagam
Ahel El Nagam performing at Shiraz Mediterranean Grill in Louisville 24 July 2009

Tonight I’ll be rehearsing with one of my other bands, Ahel El Nagam (yes, the website is very much in need of updating–I’ll get to that when I have a chance-hah!).  We bill ourselves as Louisville’s Classical Arabic Band as most of our repertoire consists of, well, Classical Egyptian tunes as well as a number of folk and traditional tunes from Turkey, Armenia, Iraq, Andalusia, Israel and other countries and regions from the Middle East.  Ahel El Nagam means, roughly, “People of the Tune.”

The group formed sometime in the middle of 2007 and I believe my first performance with them was sometime during the Spring of 2008.  At it’s formation the group was four members strong with an instrumentation that ranged from oud, tabla (Egyptian tabla), flute/bellydance, electric sitar/mandolin.  The first couple of shows I played with them (with cello) we had a five member group.

Sadly, we’ve slowly lost “full time” members as folks move on, or move out of the area, or whatever.  The majority of the shows we’ve played the past couple of years have been pretty much what you see in the photo above, me on tabla (or cello) and Denise on oud (or tabla/riqq).  We’d both been far too busy the past few months to rehearse much less play a show, though with some upcoming gigs in the works we’re getting together for the first time since last fall (I believe). Continue reading “Thursday Rehearsal Reflections: Ahel El Nagam”

“…it is often the quietest person who achieves the highest degree of ecstasy.”

Reading one of Eric Edberg’s recent posts reminded me of the quote in the title of this blog post.  Oliver Leaman, in his book “Islamic Aesthetics”, describes the role of the audience of musical performances (in the context of a discussion of audience response to the great Egyptian vocalist Umm Khulthum) under a section titled “The role of the audience in music” (Leaman 2004, 107):

To a degree the audience reacts as it has seen Sufis react, and this is often in a rather wild and free way. Yet in many of the leading writings on the topic the Sufis stressed the significance of remaining quiet and contemplative when listening to music, and if the music and dance throws one into ecstasy then obviously we might act wildly, but when when that stage is over we should be quiet and still, physically and mentally. As al-Ghazali puts it, in the Iha’ ‘ulum al-din it is often the quietest person who achieves the highest degree of ecstasy (wajd).

“[I]t is often the quietest person who achieves the highest degree of ecstasy [sic].”

I like that.

Al-Ghazālī (1058-1111 AD) was a Persian Sufi. His work, Iḥyāʾ ʿulūm al-dīn (a Sufi treatise translated as “Revival of Religious Sciences”), is regarded by some to be the greatest work of Muslim (Sunni) spirituality after the Qurʾān. Sure, most Westerners know about Sufism through a passing knowledge of that other Persian Sufi, Rūmī (1207-1273 AD), but as is often the case what becomes popular in the West isn’t necessarily a representative (or the representative) proponent of a cultural artifact from another country or time (e.g. Zen Buddhism; Tai Chi; Trancendental Yoga).

“It is often the quietest person who achieves the highest degree of ecstasy.”

There’s also that Indian saying that “music is meant to clear the mind to allow for divine influences.”

With the raging debate about Western Classical music not “connecting” with modern audience being one reason for its decline it just seems a bit disingenuous since there are plenty of contexts wherein a performance tradition can and will favor silent reception of performances. It’s disingenuous since it sets up a false dichotomy between “Stuffy Art Music” and “Engaging Popular Music” and the “Silent and Passive” reception of the former as opposed to the “Noisy and Active” engagement of the latter.

Not that Classical music concerts aren’t generally silent so much as silence doesn’t mean passive. Or rather, the two aren’t equivalent. And neither are folks who are being noisy necessarily actively engaged by or with the music.

Sometimes it is often the quietest audience members who achieve the highest degree of engaged ecstasy!

Perkfection Cafe & Bar

Ahel El Nagam (photo by Karen Bassett)
Ahel El Nagam (photo by Karen Bassett)
This is a prewritten post as I will be performing at the Perkfection Cafe & Bar with Ahel El Nagam, Louisville’s Classical Arabic Band, and the Gypsies of the Nile bellydancer troupe. If any readers are so inclined then please come to the show for live Classical Egyptian and Arabic music as only Ahel El Nagam can present and live bellydancing by the Gypsies of the Nile.

Show info follows:

Ahel El Nagam and Gypsies of the Nile
Perkfection Cafe & Bar
359 Spring Street
Jeffersonville, IN 47130

show begins at 7:00pm and ends at 9:00pm
The event is free and is all-ages appropriate

Ahel El Nagam is:
Denise – oud
Taletha – flute
Jimmy – electric sitar, mandolin
Melina – tabla

and special guest:
Jon Silpayamanant – cello, Arabic percussion

Gypsies of the Nile with Ahel El Nagam @ the Harvest Homecoming in New Albany, IN (2008)
Gypsies of the Nile with Ahel El Nagam @ the Harvest Homecoming in New Albany, IN (2008)