Saturday, October 29, 2011

No News is Bad News

An article on the Thirteen Strings was published in the Ottawa Citizen yesterday and I couldn't help but to be reminded of the serious challenges there are to the music scene in ottawa.

Last week my ensemble, Ensemble Our Very Own, had its first public concert (sponsored by Ars Nova) on period instruments. Two excellent baroque flutists from Toronto as well as our soprano Anna-Sophie from Montreal came to perform with two other locals and I in a special program of French music from the 17th and 18th centuries.

What was an excellent concert and week of rehearsals was marred by poor support from the local media and a smaller-than-expected, albeit very supportive and enthusiastic, audience. What did the Citizen cover instead? The Ottawa Choral Society's African Sanctus. Needless to say, I took a hit financing the show.

Rare is the occasion for more than three concerts of classical music to occur on one Friday evening, two is common as the NACO performs most weekends,  therefore a conflict is unavoidable. What am I saying!? YOU (if you're reading from out of town) have a CHOICE of what you want to go see every weekend! Why should there even be a discussion about scheduling conflicts in a city of 1 million+ people? And let's get real, classical music production companies in Ottawa, we are not fighting over the same 1000 concert-goers on a given evening. Ottawa is a grown-up city and it can handle more than two concerts at a time.

Let's say one percent of Ottawa's population is interested in classical music concerts - that's ten thousand people. The problem is that only one percent of the population that is aware of the concert in question is going to be interested in it. Unfortunately, there is no way to make every person living in the region aware of an event, not without a few million dollars at least. So you can understand the necessity of print article for an up-and-coming group, such as the OVO, in Ottawa.

And now to the point. When you, the arts columnist, see a group of young, extremely talented musicians performing in a premiere concert of music rarely heard in the city; would you see it as much more newsworthy than a bunch of old fogies singing a piece they've performed several times before?

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Andy's Handy Hints for your Ensemble, Part 2

Continuing from part 1 of Andy's Handy Hints

Find a Home Venue 

A church is often the cheapest place and not a bad acoustic either. Pay attention to the average attendance and think about downsizing if necessary. Some friends of mine, the group Flute Alors! Have been performing in a hall that seats about 80. Not exactly huge, but it always looks well-attended.

Plan the Future of Your Ensemble

What kind of service will you provide for the community. Make all of your goals clear and give timelines for specific projects you have in mind.

Establish a Board of Governors

Once a few concerts have been performed and your group is energised about the future, find three well-connected supporters who will herald your successes to the community. Speak to them about your plans and, if they show excitement, ask them if they might be interested in taking a leadership role with the ensemble (I.e. joining a board of governors). You'll need a president, secretary, and treasurer. The treasurer will be extremely important and helpful in future grant-writing. Make clear the purpose of the board from the beginning in order to avoid any stress later.

Incorporate as a Non-Profit or Charitable Organisation

A charitable organisation has 501(c)3 status in the States. This is very important as it opens your group up to more granting agencies as well as allowing you to issue tax-deductible receipts to donors.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Andy's Handy Hints for your Ensemble, Part 1

Starting an ensemble can be a ton of work. What am I saying? It is a ton of work. Though just getting your friends in one place for rehearsals and booking a venue may seem like enough, if you wish for your group to really become a staple to your community's entertainment diet, a few things need to be done. 

I've started Andy's Handy Hints to give you some ideas to get you started. 

Have a Blog or Website

In this digital era, there are millions of missed opportunities for a small group without any online presence. Facebook, twitter, and myspace are all free ways to connect with potential fans, other ensembles, critics....etc. When opened the @ensembleovo twitter account almost immediately there as a buzz going, I even got an interview with a reporter from La Scena Musicale from it! Get out there and raise awareness.

Have a Graphic that will be the Face of the Ensemble

Even if it doesn't have the group members in it, make sure it gives the viewer something to grab hold of. Of course, be careful with what you use, make sure it's appropriate to the type of entertainment you want to put on.

Make Clear Who Your Permanent Members Are

Something we'll be experimenting with this year. Make sure that you appreciate what your fellow musicians bring to the ensemble and make sure you enjoy their company in and outside of rehearsal.

Open an Ensemble Bank Account

This will make things much easier at tax time.

Perform Three Concerts a Season, Minimum

Most granting agencies (especially 'gateway granters') require ensembles to be 'active' for a certain amount of seasons. An 'active' year often means a minimum of three to four concerts a season.

You can read part 2, here

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Upsetting circumstances with university music ensemble

This post is a comment on a situation at my university. Let me begin by saying that I'm not writing this post to bash the music discipline. Although at times it may seem that way, please don't misinterpret; I'd like to share with you my experience there over the past three-and-a-quarter years.

The few of you reading in Ottawa might think of Carleton's music program as 'one that doesn't focus on musical performance'. The university does, in fact, offer a bachelor of music degree which, by provincial standard, is supposed to have a performance component.

The main image problem in the past few years has been the lack of depth in student classical performers. However, the music discipline accepts, according to an article published in a Carleton magazine, players of any instrument from any style as long as the prospective student can find him/herself a teacher. Although there are and have been some excellent performers inside and outside of classical music, as of late the classical area has been stagnant.

As part of our degree, students must be part of an ensemble (open to both students and the general public) for a total of 8 semesters. Students are not limited to a particular ensemble, allowing you to change from semester to semester; and you can double-up ensembles to finish your requirements in half the time. These ensembles are worth a 0.0 credit, meaning that although one must register in them, they are not given an academic score but, rather, a pass/fail based solely on attendance. Up until this year, it was never explained how many rehearsals you could miss before you were failed.

Carleton works on a 5.0 credit-per-year system, where an average class is worth 0.5 credits per term. 1.0 credits costs a B.mus student roughly 1100 CAD. Therefore, a 0.0 credit costs a B.mus student nothing.

Carleton runs a contemporary music ensemble, a guitar ensemble, a community choir, an african drumming ensemble, jazz ensemble, a fusion ensemble, a 'baroque opera ensemble' (which includes an orchestra, though composed almost entirely of community members), a chamber music ensemble and until recently, an Indian music ensemble.

To be quite honest, every ensemble except the classical ones are worth going to see. I especially recommend a trip to see the african drumming ensemble, the most popular group to join amongst the B.mus students. Unfortunately, the discipline has decided that all ensemble concerts are pay-to-enter, a travesty in my opinion. Any one of you can go see your local university orchestra for free. In previous years the takings from Carleton concerts, if there was a charge at all, were to go to charity (the Haiti earthquake victims, for example), but now it goes straight to the discipline. Though I can understand in cases where a concert hall is required, I can't believe that charging admission to concerts held in the regular classroom has become necessary.

The ensemble which I have participated in the most, the chamber music ensemble, is scheduled for Friday nights, from 5:15 until (usually) 9pm, although each group only receives 30 minutes of coaching every 2 weeks. Often practices have run to 10pm. The ensemble holds a lot of emotional baggage for me as I've never been in a group that I've really felt made an effort in making music. As many members of the group are non-B.mus students, and those that are in the program do not receive any grade at the end of the semester, it's rare to see members take ownership. 

Clearly I'm tense over the whole situation. However, allow me to speculate a solution to all of this trouble. 

If the discipline were to make the ensembles a 0.25 credit, B.mus students would pay about $250 per semester (generating roughly $25,000 in revenue to the university) and would be graded in their participation. Non B.mus students/the community would be eliminated from the equation and there would be no need to charge entry to concerts which are already poorly attended to begin with. Although the university would be the direct recipients of the credit revenue, there would be no reason not to increase funding to the discipline as a result of this change. There could even be a budget for instrument tuning, maintenance and proper ensemble coaching.

Let's see what happens in the long run.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

A must-read! Please read Paul Judy's blog post

Through Tony Woodcock's blog you can find Paul Judy's blog post about the next-generation musical arts organizations. Please read this as it is gold.
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