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Check it twice

The Washington Post recently wrote an editorial saying the Summer is over-rated. It’s possible that’s true. What is summer really? – A time when it’s really hot!!

For many of us, summer is when we envision getting a lot done. We make lists and once made, they are hard to escape.

The “list” is that thing we all do — the “I’m going to be productive and not just lay on the beach” thing we seem to need to do to justify our summer.

Everyone has a list. It may be pragmatic – “Paint the house” “Clean the basement” or more ambitious “learn French”. As a rule, the list is not finishable. If we come close to completing them we just add more to it. Sometimes, we don’t even start them. They just linger, close at hand, as a reminder of all the promises we made to ourselves and others.

I have a personal list and a more pragmatic trio list. From a rehearsal point of view, the trio is on hiatus. Matt’s in Colorado and Suzanne will soon head to Maine and then beyond. But even though we are scattered, there are still things to accomplish and thus, we have a list.

Some things are already done:

Airline tickets to Havana √
Tickets to New Orleans √
Get materials ready for our new Intern, who starts in the Fall (Can’t tell you about him, but will in September) √

To be honest, those were fun tasks, so of course they were completed first.

Others are in progress:

Emails to universities about our 2020 Composer Competition — 300+ emails sent, more going soon
Program decisions for the Fall — 90% there…

There are other things that have been started, but have a ways to go: Learn Spanish (no really) — Sí, pero no habla bonito, todavía.
Emails to Presenters – Oy…where’s that intern?

Is the list a good or bad?
If you use it as a tool – good!
If you feel beaten down by it – bad.

List or no, I’m still in favor of summer. And it’s okay to slack off, at least a little. A week on the beach in Florida, rum drink in hand comes my way soon. No instrument. No nail clipper. And after that, it will be back to work.

And meanwhile, that’s July’s Blog √√

Pop, pop,pppppop

Spring is popping up all over… or in our case, 8SW is popping up, which is definitely better then pooping out.

Over the last season and a bit, we have had two Pop Up concerts, and we’re doing it again to celebrate the end of our 2018-19 season.

The Pop Up concerts happen in a variety of spaces.  So far, we’ve played at Alchemical Studios in lower Chelsea (not sure that is a legitimate real estate term, but let’s go with it) and Shetler Studios in Midtown.  Our next one will be in the Theater district, at a studio we chose because we liked the name. Why studios?  First, they tend to be less expensive than a more formal concert space like Tenri, or one of the halls.  Also, they are smaller and more casual, which is the aesthetic we’re aiming for. And there are so many options in New York. These performances give us a chance to try different places and acoustics in a pretty low risk way.   In the future, we are looking at spaces in the outer boroughs.   (Yes, I’m originally from Queens, so I can say “Outer Boroughs”. I still think of Manhattan as going into “the City”.) Maybe even… New Jersey.  Who knows?

These Pop Ups are short too. We like to keep them to about 30-40 minutes of music.  They are a chance to try pieces out.  With any piece, but especially with new music, it’s hard to know what you have till you trot it out in front of actually living people. With these concerts, we can see what works and what doesn’t — what we need to change or adjust.  And most importantly to us, get direct feedback from the audience about what they heard.

On June 11, we will be playing three pieces.  The first is by NY composer, Pamela Sklar.  Pam is a flutist and composer.  She and Matt spent many years trekking around Maine and Japan performing with the New York Ragtime Orchestra.  I still remember Pam in her flapper dress playing “Whistler and his Dog” on the piccolo.  Her work, Third Eye, is a long way from Ragtime.  We have actually performed this work once before and Pam is currently working an a second movement that we will premiere in the Fall. You can read all about Pamela and her music in our Featured Composer Section.

Then there is the entrée of this little concert – Aribert Riemann’s Canzoni e  Ricercari.  This piece was written in 1961 and has been sitting in our library for a long time, waiting for the right program.  It’s an interesting set of works that has solo, duo and trio movements.

Finally, a little CPE Bach.  I know, not new music, but you know…variety.  And of course we’ve messed with it –– Viola instead of a violin, so a few (maybe a lot) of octave changes, altering the timbre just a bit and no pesky harpsichord to get in the way of that nifty Basso Continuo.

These Pop Ups are free to attend, but, of course, we’d never pass up any donations.  We do have a new recording to fund, and our 2020 8SW Composer Competition. and a few other projects that you’ll be hearing about soon…I guess I know what the next 3-8 blogs will be about!

Want to come to our June 11 Pop Up at 6PM?  Great!!  Drop us a quick email at 8stringswhistle@gmail.com.  Space is a bit limited so we want to make sure we have a chair for you and of course, tell you where exactly the performance is happening.

Evolution

Welcome to our revamped website!

Having a website that functions on every conceivable platform is a necessity today.  But as we launch this one, it has give me a chance to think back.  When we came together 20 years ago (or is it 21? 19?) the thought of needing a website didn’t exist.  Our first press photos were taken on actual film, with hard copy proofs, and were in black and white (ok, that was a style choice, though it may have been budget…who can remember). We had a hard copy brochure that we would mail to presenters, with an actual demo CD, that Matt would laboriously apply our labels to.

Of course, it’s not just media that has changed.  We’ve grown — yes, older, but also musically.  Recently we applied for a grant and needed to choose recorded samples to include.  It’s been quite a few years since we’ve done this.  I recall having a hard time in the past — every sample had a flaw.   Not something that would destroy a live performance but under the microscope of adjudication could be an issue.   This time we listened to five works from two recent concerts and they were good.  Really good.

I don’t say that easily.  As musicians we are incredibly self critical and always looking to improve but all three of us listened to these excerpts and were actually happy with what we heard. For me, it is a sign of how we have evolved over the last two decades.  I don’t know if we will be around in 2039, and if so, what new media we will have to keep up with, but I do know we will continue to grow and learn for as long as we keep playing.


It’s a tough time to be a classical musician.

Of course, it always has been.  When I started conservatory, everyone was upset that the opportunities for American string players to work in Europe were drying up.  And then there were funding cuts!  Many were worried (rightfully so) about cuts to the NEA.  Five years later, when I played at the White House for the Congressional Picnic during the Clinton administration, we were all (still!) talking about cuts in funding.

And here we are today, again looking at potentially devastating cuts in funding.  Of course, now we are looking at major government cuts to so many worthwhile programs, so the NEA and NEH aren’t getting that much attention.

Small ensembles like ours depend on our earnings from concerts, the generosity of our supporters, and small grants to survive.  Like most other ensembles our size, we have never received any money from the government.

So why should we care about the NEA and government funding?  Because we are all a big community, or to paraphrase my friend Judith Insell (Music Programs Manager for the Bronx Arts Ensemble), an ecosystem.  What impacts one part of the community will trickle down, to use a Reaganism, and effect us all — for good or for bad.

So right now, as we should all be hunkering down, preparing for the oncoming storm, we have decided to start a competition for composers.

Logically, it’s not the best idea— it’s not the most financially sensible plan.  But we think it is a necessity.

When you decide to follow the path to be a performing musician, you know that your chances of a stable income and security are unlikely.  Even less of a “sure thing” is becoming a composer.  Only a handful of classical composers are able to make an actual living composing.  The large majority do other things: they teach (music and other subjects), run publishing companies, work regular day jobs, and a host of other things. They spend a lot of time alone, composing, hoping to get their works performed.

This past September, we had the good fortune of performing at Tulane University.  There, we got to meet a number of composition students.  Writing for an ensemble like ours wasn’t something most had considered.  We had a great time talking to them about our group and what’s possible with a mixed-instrument ensemble (i.e. a group that mixes instruments from different families, as opposed to something more homogeneous, like a string quartet).

When we left, all three of us felt that we wanted to work more with student composers.  To that end, we have decided to launch our first competition.

We hope to accomplish a few things:

  1. Selfishly, we of course hope to encourage more works for our trio’s combination of instruments.  So many great composers have written and continue to write for us, but inspiring more composers from across the country and the world has to be part of our motivation.
  2. Keeping modern classical chamber music a high priority for composers.  Let’s face it – what money is out there for new works often goes to the large arts organizations, like major symphonies and opera companies.  Because of this composers are encouraged to write large scales works for relatively well funded groups. But chamber music is the life blood of classical music.  Chamber music, by design, is intended for smaller, more intimate audiences.  How better to build a direct connection between performer and audience then in intimate environs of a chamber performance?
  3. We decided to not put an age limit on our competition, but open it to anyone working towards a Bachelor, Master, Doctorate or doing Post-Graduate work.  We’ve been together as a trio for almost twenty years, and in that time we have had amazing interactions with so many composers who have written for us.  We feel, and most of the composers we have worked with would agree, that the exchange of ideas brings about better pieces and better performances.  We want to bring this opportunity to composers whom we might never meet without the incentive a competition provides.

Of course, competitions cost money.  For the first prize, we’re planning to premiere the work at our annual Fall concert in New York City and a small stipend for the winner, but there are plenty of other expenses.  We need to advertise the competition — much of which can be done on line, but a hard copy mailing to colleges is advised, and we’ll need to buy advertising in printed publications.  We need to pay our adjudicators for sorting through and judging the submissions.  Speaking of the submissions, we need to set up an electronic means for scores and recording to be uploaded and have a project manager to make sure everything runs smoothly and fairly.

And more…

All of this brings me to fund raising.  I hate fund raising.  We all do.  We hate asking for money.  But in our current environment, we know that funding for a small chamber ensemble isn’t coming from the government or some large grant.  It’s coming from the individual, local donor who believes chamber music is important.

That’s why we hope you will join us at our Benefit on Sunday, March 19 at 4:00 PM.  We will be performing a short program, including music of Graun, Jaime Zenamon (a work from our first concert together!), a new work by Spencer Synder, dances by our good friend, Tony Price, as well some of our own tango arrangements.  There will be tapas and sangria as well!

Can’t be there on the 19th?  You can still make a donation.  Just follow the link and look to the bottom of the page.

We hope to see you there.

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