Monday, March 29, 2010

Red Scare Redux

I ran across a small publication stuck in a collection of my grandfather’s books. It’s something that was published by the American Legion back in the early 1920’s and as you can see from the cartoon on the cover (left) it was concerned with the perceived threat of a communist takeover.

Now at the time, the Red Scare was a serious concern. Just as terrorist bombings capture the headlines today, bombings by anarchists and revolutionaries prompted the same degree of outcry in 1918-1920.

This little booklet was designed to make Real Americans aware of this insidious threat to their way of life. The left hand pages had news photos of worker riots or the aftermath of bombings, always pointing out how many foreign-born agitators were involved. The right hand pages had the narrative, with supporting newspaper clippings. The text read:

Hundreds of thousands of agitators are at work in this country. They are amply supplied with funds from some source. They work under cover. (page 2)

They spread the doctrines of sabotage and destruction hoping to bring about a state of confusion and fear which will enable them to dominate industry. (page 3)

They preach the bomb and the barricade to wreck the machinery of civilization that they may build a tyranny of their own upon the ruins.(page 4)

 - One the headlines on this page reads: [President] Harding Quits Pew to Praise Preacher.  Dr. Clark Warns of Republic Being Turned Into Socialistic Democracy. “White” Plea Is Made.

Self preservation demands that we rid ourselves of those who plan destruction of all we have built. (page 5)
- One of the headlines on this page reads: Worker Party Out for Red Revolution and Soviet America

They work secretly and cunningly and appeal to the uninformed because their cause is hopeless if exposed to the light of reason. (page 6)

Preachers of communism and anarchy abuse “free speech” by attacking the government which guarantees them “free speech.” (page 7)

- One of the clippings on this page reads: Asks South to Lead Fight on Radicals. Reds are Inciting Negroes

So here we are almost ninety years after this booklet was written. In a new century, in a new world. And yet, it seems to me that the tropes haven’t changed that much. Alarmist outrage fueled by fear – it all seems sadly familiar.

- Ralph

Friday, March 26, 2010

Portals and Cake

I've written before about independent artist Jonathan Coulton and his very successful non-major label music career. One of the tenets of Coulton's work (and a key to his success) is the idea that music freely shared reaps dividends for the artist. By making his music available for free distribution, Coulton became a household name -- at least online.

That heightened profile eventually lead to him providing a song for the video game Portal, which did provide a nice source of income. The song, "Still Alive" became something of an underground hit. So much so, that was made available on Rock Band, generating even more income.

There's several versions of the song available on YouTube, all of which help keep Coulton's name in the limelight, and help fill concert halls. The version of the video game (below) currently has over 5.3 million views.

Jonathan Coulton's own version on YouTube has been viewed 1.3 million times.

And now the Gifford Children's Choir of Racine, Wisconsin has performed their own version and posted it on YouTube. It's had over 160,000 views so far, which has been a great boost for the choir, as well as renewed interest in Coulton's song, and the video game Portal.

So what has Coulton's "share and share alike" policy gotten him? There have been almost 7 million total views of these three videos. By contrast, this week's number one song on Billboard ("Hey Soul Sister" by Train) has sold 2 million copies since its release. And while views don't equal sales, Coulton gets 100% of the royalties from each sale of his song. Train gets perhaps 12%.

Assuming "Still Alive" and "Hey Soul Sister" both net $0.99 a sale, Train's made about $237,000 for their song. Jonathan Coulton needs to sell just 240,000 downloads to equal that. And with 7 million views and counting, what's the likelihood he's already past that number?

- Ralph

Wednesday, March 24, 2010


When Ken and I started the C.E. Conversations blog back in 2006 we have an idea: the two of us would engage in a long and open discussion about tech and consumer electronics. It wasn't long before the blog started to stray off topic. Within a year the only "C.E." in "C.E. Conversations" was in the title.

Although Ken's posts continue to generate the most reads, his participation has declined over time as he's moved on to other projects, making the "Conversation" more of a monolog.

And so, I think it's time to change the name of the blog -- and do a redesign at the same time. Looking over the subjects covered recently, there did seem to be a common theme. Obscure genre writers, little-known actors, radio, literature -- all things that pass beneath our notice, and yet deserve our attention.

Hence the new name, "Sound of the Sky." Because both sound and sky are intangibles.

Time for a change.

Here's a link to a mockup of the new blog. Please let me know what you think. We'll be making the change fairly soon, but I'd like to know I'm going in the right direction.

 - Ralph

Monday, March 22, 2010

Dan Tuner - Page Turner

Not all literature is great. But sometimes it can be fun. Like the work of Robert Leslie Bellem.

Bellem was an amazingly prolific and successful mystery author who wrote an estimated 3,000 stories between 1934 and 1947 when the pulp magazine market collapsed. Without breaking stride, Los Angeles-based Bellem transitioned to movie and then TV script-writing which he continued until his death in 1968.

Dan Turner, Hollywood Detective was Bellem's most enduring character. Turner starred in over 300 stories. Turner self-narrated his stories set in a fun-house mirror version of Tinseltown.

Anyone interested in classic hard-boiled detective stories should be conversant with Dan Turner. Bellem racheted up the tough-guy slang to the point of parody, with over-the-top plots to match.

In Dan Turner's world, guns didn't fire; roscoes coughed. Instead of lighting a cigarette, you fired up a gasper. Lamped instead of looked, yodeled instead of telephoned, ankled instead of walked -- the list is almost endless.

Bellem wrote fast, and that's the best way to read a Dan Turner story. These 2,000-3,000 word stories usually had a sparse cast of cardboard characters and a mystery that turned on a single clue.

But what a lot of fun to read. There's nothing simple about Bellem's writing. They're so full of tough-guy slang you almost need an annotated edition of the text. Here's the start of "Snake Tangle"

I was buying a shine from Pete the Greek when a gorgeous gazelle planted her shapely form on the chair next to me. The instant she sat down she issued herself a ticket to her own funeral -- although naturally I didn't know it at the time When I sneaked a sidewise swivel at her she looked as far removed from the morgue as I am from my first million bucks.

And here's the denouement from "Headlines in Hell" (1943)

"Going somewhere?" I said.

The black-haired wren froze. "You - !"

"Yeah, babe. Me. Get away from Farlow so we can slip the nippers on him. He's the guy that cooled Polly Todd."

As I said this, the publicity bozo plunged his good hand into his coat; hauled forth a roscoe. "No, you won't! You won't take me alive!" And he triggered a slug at my favorite vest.
If you get a collection of Dan Turner stories, treat them like a box of rich candy -- don't consume more than one per sitting. There's a certain sameness to them that can lessen the enjoyment. But individually, they're pure fun.

 - Ralph

Friday, March 19, 2010

Local Legends

How much do you know about the area you live in? Could you give a guided tour?

Just wondering.

Orange County isn't the cultural, political, or even geographical center of the Commonwealth of Virginia. And yet when friends from out-of-town came for a visit, I surprised myself with how many points of interest (both important and not) we were able to show them.

Like many localities, Orange County does have some historic places. Montpelier, the home of James Madison is probably the most famous. But as we drove around, places and stories just spilled forth.

Montpelier, for example, was also one of the locations used for the filming of "Hush" with Gwyneth Paltrow and Jessica Lange (the murder weapon came from Faulconer's Hardware in downtown Orange). If you look carefully in the background, you'll see many Orange County residents (and many Four County Player thespians) working as extras in the background.

Near Montpelier is Mount Athos, current home to Donna Somerville. Did she really murder her husband, Ham Somerville, the squire of Somerset? The court ruled not, but the jury of public opinion is still out.

And then there's St. Thomas Episcopal Church in the town of Orange, which features stained glass windows by Tiffany and Company. Across the street is the Orange Presbyterian Church, which has the pew that Robert E. Lee sat during worship services (with an appropriate plaque).

And speaking of the Recent Unpleasantness (known as the Civil War in other parts of the country), there's the Exchange Hotel in Gordonsville. This vacation destination was converted into a field hospital, with a chute connected to one window that shunted severed limbs into a pit.

The Battle of the Wilderness happened in Orange County, and near the town is an overgrown arched stone bridge. This is the now abandoned replacement to the wooden Fat Nancy railroad bridge, which collapsed as an excursion train crossed it in 1888 -- a train full of Civil War veterans returning from a reunion of Gettysburg. One of the survivors was General James A. Longstreet.

There's also the building where a kayak factory used to be -- the first enterprise of Peter Rice, who would later founded the Plow and Hearth. We showed our guests the remains of the narrow gauge railroad right-of-way that hauled timber from Wolftown at the base of the Appalachians to the furniture factory in the Town of Orange.

We dined at the Silk Mill Grill, one of the many businesses occupying the old silk mill building, at one time the town's biggest employer. We drank Barboursville Vinyards wine, grown on the former estate of Governor James Barbour of Virginia. His home, designed by Thomas Jefferson, burned in 1884. The ruins still stand, and in addition to providing a graphic for the vineyard's label, also serve as an outdoor stage for summer productions.

And there are many more stories we could have shared, too. I know that my father could give an equally detailed tour of his home town, which got me thinking. What about you? What stories would you share about where you live? Because every location has at least one.

- Ralph

(And if you have a great story about where you live, please share in the comments field)

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

The CE Classical Challange - WHQR

For the fifth Classical Challenge, we move to North Carolina, and look at a sample playlist from WHQR in Wilmington. WHQR airs classical music mainly from 9am to 12 noon during the week, and uses Public Radio International's Classical 24 syndicated service for overnight.

WHQR carries a lot of news/talk, and they produce a significant amount of strong local programming. And they also use Twitter and Facebook appropriately and effectively. Looking at it from a station viewpoint, they're serving their audience well.

As before, I just looked at a single day's playlist (in this case, 1/11/10)

But if your only exposure to classical music was through WHQR, what would your impression of the genre be? Well, nothing out of line with what we've seen so far. The quintessential WHQR classical track would be an orchestral work from late 19th - early 20th century Europe.

WHQR serves their classical listeners well by keeping things soothing. But as a recent study shows, it's an audience that's not growing. It's declining. So the status quo isn't enough. And that's really what the challenge is all about. If centuries-old orchestral music by dead European males isn't bringing new listeners to classical then perhaps its time to change the mix.

Here's the breakdown for the day's playlist:

Types of Ensemble
71% Orchestra (includes soloist with orchestra)
6% Chamber group
24% Solo instrumental performer (mostly piano)
0% Choral ensemble
0% Solo vocalist

Style Period
41% 20th Century (mostly works before 1930)
35% Romantic
12% Classical
12% Baroque
6% Early music (renaissance only)
0% Soundtracks

Composer Demographics
94% European
6% American (basically Gershwin)
0% Other

100% Dead
0% Living

100% Male
0% Female

Monday, March 15, 2010

Relevant Classics

Part of what I'm trying to do with the CE Classical Challenge is get people thinking about classical music, and how it's programmed on public radio stations.

Does it matter? Very much. According to a recent study, the public radio audience is aging up, and out. And it's happening the quickest in the classical format.

The oldest public radio format is classical music; the median age of its audience has aged seven years over the last 10 years — to age 65. That means half of the classical audience are not boomers but seniors.  There has been no growth in the size of the classical audience over the 10-year period studied, except as public radio has been able to purchase failing commercial classical stations.
So clearly classical programming isn't connecting with (relatively) younger audiences.

But does it mean classical music's dead?

No, because younger audiences have discovered classical music on their own. Music that speaks to them. Music that has points of connection with the other forms of music they listen to.

It's what I've been saying all along, but it's not just me. Flavorwire recently posted Indie Rock's 5 Favorite Classical Composers. It's well worth reading -- and listening to. The article provides examples of not only the composers, but also of the indie artists they influence (or resemble).

The list consists of Karlheinz Stockhausen, Claudio Monteverdi, Steve Rich, Arvo Part, and John Adams. Notice that four of the composers come from the late 20th Century -- and three of them are still alive, and still creating music.

Want to attract the next generation of classical listeners? Why not start with playing the composers people are already listening to?

Friday, March 12, 2010

The CE Classical Challange - WMRA

For the fourth Classical Challenge, I looked at WMRA/WEMC in Harrisonburg, VA. For a representative sampling, I used their playlist for Monday, 11/02/09. (If this is your first Classical Challenge post, I strongly encourage you to read CE Classical Challange Revisited to fully understand the nature of my somewhat unscientific survey).

WMRA and WEMC used to be separately run stations, each serving the same population. When WMRA took over WEMC, most of the classical programming was shifted to the smaller station, and WMRA moved to a news/talk-heavy format, which has proven to attract more listeners and bigger fund-raising returns for most stations.

There weren't many surprises in the type of classical music WEMC offered. All the composers were safely dead, and all safely male. The repertoire was almost exclusively European, save for a little Gershwin (American, but dead).

Over two-thirds of the music was orchestral, with most of it coming from the Romantic and late Classical periods (and some post-romantic 20th Century works thrown in). No choral works were aired, nor any tracks by solo vocalists.

Now there's been some misunderstanding about why I think this is a bad thing. I'm not saying that we need to establish quotas for types of music, or composer gender or anything like that. But what I do want us to think about is this:

Muzak played familiar tunes in soothing orchestral arrangements, designed to provide a pleasant, ambient background and nothing more. When we only air familiar orchestral classics by tried-and-true composers, are we not doing basically the same thing?

Understand, I'm not advocating a lunchtime Xenakis retrospective. But within the realm of accessible music that would be radio-friendly, there are plenty of works that would add freshness to stations playlists' and perhaps more active engage (but not distract) the listener.

That's why I look at women composers. Fanny Mendelssohn-Hensel's piano works are similar to those of her brother Felix, but they have a slight difference that I think makes them interesting. Clara Schumann also wrote works that are both note-worthy and radio-friendly.

It's why I look for American composers. These are our countrymen expressing themselves through music. If there's any audience that should connect with their music, it would be an American one. Germany celebrates Beethoven, Austria celebrates Mozart, the Czech Republic celebrates Dvorak. And we celebrate -- ?

It's also why I look for choral and vocal music. The bulk of amateur musicians can be found in choirs. It seems to me a healthy selection of choral works injected into the mix would only help bring this under served part of the potential audience into the fold.

So is WEMC's programming good or bad? Well, like every other public radio station, they're programming the best they can with the resources they have to get the results they want.

All I'm challenging are the results. Is classical music really only about the orchestral works of Europeans who've been dead for a hundred years or more? If it is, then why should I care whether it stays or goes away?

Types of Ensemble
69% Orchestra (includes soloist with orchestra)
18% Chamber group
13% Solo instrumental performer (mainly piano, and some classical guitar)
0% Choral ensemble
0% Solo vocalist

Style Period
36% Romantic
28% Classical
21% Baroque
15% 20th Century
15% Early music (renaissance only)
0% Soundtracks

Composer Demographics
3% American
0% Other

100% Dead
0% Living

100% Male
0% Female

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Music changes

Back in February the LA Times reported on a study by the NPD Group. According to the article,

Last year saw a 21% drop in the number of people in the U.S. buying music -- both digital and physical -- compared with 2007, according to figures released Thursday by NPD Group, a market research firm.
The NPD numbers echo similarly dour news released last month from the IFPI, a London-based consortium of 1,400 record companies. A 12% uptick in digital music sales in 2009 was not enough to reverse an overall 10% slide in global sales of recorded music in all formats
So things are changing. Another study by the NPD Group further illuminates. As you read the report, keep in mind what the major labels want.

1) There's more profit in albums than in singles, so the majors held the line on album prices and killed off CD singles so consumers had to buy the album to get the song they wanted.

2) There's more profit in physical profit than in downloads, so the majors dragged their feet even getting into the download market, and have been doing everything they can to stop consumers from downloading and/or sharing music illegally.

And the result?
Consumers’ primary reason for not purchasing CDs was that they were spending less on entertainment overall, because of the recession. Consumers were also concerned about the price of CDs, and expressed satisfaction with the collection of titles they already own. Among the reasons consumers cited for preferring digital music over CDs was that they could choose only the songs they wanted to purchase, and could immediately download and listen to their purchases.
See the problem? Consumers want one thing, the labels another. Businesses that survive adapt to the market. Those that don't die.

I don't think we're seeing the death of music, or artists no longer being able to support themselves, or any of that. But for the labels that are desperately trying to turn back the clock? The market's already spoken.

 - Ralph

Monday, March 08, 2010

The Value of Twitter, Part 5: An Annotated Conversation

The Value of Twitter Series:
Part 1: The Personal
Part 2: The Professional
Part 3: The Informational
Part 4: Join the Conversation
Part 5: An Annotated Conversation

Many of my friends are still confused about Twitter. My last set of posts on the subject outlined some of the general benefits. But understanding how Twitter might be useful for a specific person can be difficult to draw from generalities -- especially if there's no personal experience to draw on.

So I present a recent group of tweets I participated in that might help demonstrate not only some of the social and professional value of Twitter, but the usefulness of one of its tools.

A little bit of background. This conversation is about classical music, but even if you don't care a fig for it, please read on. What's important here are the underlying concepts, which could just as easily be applied to conversations about needlework, investment banking, or college lacrosse teams.

In this group of tweets, all of the participants agreed to listen to a concerto each day in the month of March -- just for fun. Note that the tweets use the the same hashtag (#concertoaday). Putting the # sign in front of a word (or phrase without spaces) creates a unique term that's easily searchable on Twitter. And some third-party programs let you click on a hashtag to pull up all related posts.

Twitter names are noted with the @ symbol in front of the account name. This turns them into links in Twitter-based programs. Below is an actual Twitter conversation, followed by an annotated version First, the original conversation (each day's tweets are spread over an 8-10 hour period):

March 1, 2010
My first #concertoaday for March! Vasks: English Horn Concerto @NaxosMusicLib WER6705-2

@UMKCCons I'm in for the #concertoaday. First up: Daniel Asia's Piano Concerto (Summit Records)

#concertoaday Hummel's 2nd Piano Concerto, with Stephen Hough on @ChandosRecords - from the 30th Anniversary set:

RT @DrGeoduck: #concertoaday in March sounds like a fine idea, @UMKCCons, @villa_lobos, #symphonyaday

Listening to Menotti Violin Concerto for #concertoaday sigh. Not the best choice. Was hoping Barber would have rubbed off on him. Alas.

is bidding good-bye to #symphonyaday but ushering in #concertoaday for March with the incomparable... (expand

First #concertoaday: Schumann Cello Concerto.

#concertoaday Max Bruch: Concerto for 2 pianos, Op. 88a. Classic Philips recording w/Katia & Marielle Labeque, Semyon Bychkov &  Philharmonia

@RalphGraves @Tom_godell I only know the Bruch violin cto. Will check the others out. #concertoaday

@RalphGraves Isn't that the arrangement of the clarinet/viola concerto? If so, it's a lovely piece.

@Tom_Godell According to the liner notes, Bruch's Concerto for 2 Pianos started life as a suite for organ and orchestra.

@RalphGraves It'd be very interesting to hear the original suite. I wonder if it was published?

@Tom_Godell There is a version of the original version available on CD from a very small label I'm not familiar with.

UMKCCons: #concertoaday Nerding out. Jan Bach: Steel Drum Cto and Gould: Tap Dancer Cto @NaxosMusicLib TROY521. Wish me luck! Can my ears handle it?

@UMKCCons Two cool pieces I wasn't aware of before. Who says Twitter's useless? (I'm actually finding it to be quite expensive).

villa_lobos: You had me at Moderato Nobile - #concertoaday Korngold's Violin Concerto - all the wonder & excitement of early Technicolor

#concertoaday Kurt Weill: Violin Concerto in honor of his birthday on @NaxosMusicLib PSC1090 @Tom_godell Scottish Fantasy LURV!

A quite recent #concertoaday today: the Colin Matthews Violin Concerto

March 3, 2010
#concertoaday all 3 Bartok piano concertos. It's that kind of day. If I have to lecture on Schubert, I need one of my favs to get me thru.

#concertoaday Music by the finest swordsman in all of France, Joseph Boulogne de Saint-Georges. Violin Concerto in D, Op. 3 (Naxos 8.557322)

Today's #concertoaday is the Richard Strauss Horn Concerto no. 2. There's something golden and autumnal about late Strauss.

#concertoaday is David Chesky's Violin and Flute Concerto (SACD288)

#concertoaday Villa-Lobos Guitar Concerto - Norbert Kraft's on @NaxosRecords 8.550729 is my favourite

      @villa_lobos Why am I not surprised? Definitely a good choice, though. And a good recording.

     @RalphGraves #concertoaday is a good choice for the Villa-Lobos lover. His symphonies aren't top drawer - lots to choose from concerto-wise


Think Twitter's a total waste of time? Read the annotated conversation:

My first #concertoaday [hashtag to organize conversation] for March! [Peteris] Vasks: English Horn Concerto @NaxosMusicLib [this is an account of an employee at Naxos Records -- watch how this company benefits from their Twittering] WER6705-2 
[This is the catalog number for the CD -- free publicity for Naxos]

@UMKCCons I'm in for the #concertoaday. [My use of the hashtag brings me into the conversation] First up: Daniel Asia's Piano Concerto (Summit Records)
[a nice plug for Summit Records]

#concertoaday [hashtag]  Hummel's 2nd Piano Concerto, with Stephen Hough on @ChandosRecords [Chandos Records issued this recording, @ChandosRecords is their Twitter account] - from the 30th Anniversary set:
[This is a shortened URL that links to the Chandos page giving you additional information. Because tweets are limited to 140 characters, several URL shortening sites have sprung up.In this case, was used. One thing to note: and other URL-shorteners allow you to track usage. The originator will be able to see how many people clicked on this link, when, and from what country.]

RT [RT is the designation for "retweeting." This is the equivalent of forwarding an email. Usually after the letters RT you'll see account name of the original tweeter -- in this case, DrGeoDuck.] @DrGeoduck: #concertoaday in March sounds like a fine idea, @UMKCCons, @villa_lobos, [the inclusion of these names ensures that these accounts will see this message] #symphonyaday  
[This hashtag refers to the previous month's game of listening to a symphony a day. Including this hashtag ensures the tweet shows up in both hashtag sorts, which in this case helps the followers of the "symphony a day" conversation transition into the "concerto a day" thread.]

Listening to [Carlo] Menotti Violin Concerto for #concertoaday sigh. Not the best choice. Was hoping Barber would have rubbed off on him. Alas. 
[Idle chatter? Not for me. I wasn't aware that Menotti wrote a violin concerto. And because through other conversations I know how my musical taste lines up with UMKCCons, I know it's not likely I'd enjoy this work either.]

is bidding good-bye to #symphonyaday [hashtag links to older thread] but ushering in #concertoaday [hashtag links to new topic] for March with the incomparable... (expand)
[This is an interesting work-around of the 140 character limit. Because the message is too long, NaxosMusicLib includes a shortened URL -- basically the equivalent of adding a second page. Note that the link goes to the Naxos Music Library Facebook page, driving traffic (and building awareness of) said Facebook page. On that page is the disc -- which has a Naxos catalog number, of course. So although NaxosMusicLib has entered the spirit of the conversation, they're also subtly -- and very appropriately -- strengthening their brand.]

First #concertoaday: Schumann Cello Concerto.
[Just contributing to the conversation.]

#concertoaday [Note that I launch right into the meat of the message. I'm relying on the hashtag to provide context, having it understood that this is what I will be listening to for my concerto a day.] Max Bruch: Concerto for 2 pianos, Op. 88a. Classic Philips recording w/Katia & Marielle Labeque, Semyon Bychkov & Philharmonia  
[The use of ampersands, and other abbreviations very helpful with only 140 characters to use.]

[I'm using indentations to indicate replies. If you just send out a tweet, everyone sees it. If you use the reply button, everyone still sees the answer, but the other person's name appears first to indicate the relationship. Some Twitter apps will link together these responses so you can follow the thread -- as I've done here. If you respond privately, "direct message" you'll see DM at the start of the tweet.]
     @RalphGraves @Tom_godell [Two names are included, as this is actually a response to both of us.]  I only know the Bruch violin cto. Will check the others out. #concertoaday
[UMKCCons uses the hashtag to ensure other people involved with concerto a day will also see this tweet.]

     @RalphGraves Isn't that the arrangement of the clarinet/viola concerto? If so, it's a lovely piece.
[A second response to my tweet. I actually got this after UMCCon's response, but I believe it was sent first.]

     @Tom_Godell According to the liner notes, Bruch's Concerto for 2 Pianos started life as a suite for organ and orchestra.  
[Yes, we're two music geeks. But consider how helpful/fun such an in-depth conversation could be in your own area of interest.]

@RalphGraves It'd be very interesting to hear the original suite. I wonder if it was published?

     @Tom_Godell There is a version of the original version available on CD from a very small label I'm not familiar with. 
[This is another shortened URL that leads to the product page for this release at Not only does it provide additional information for our conversation, but if Tom_Godell wanted to, he could immediately purchase the CD. A nice benefit for ArkivMusic -- and they're not even part of the conversation!]

UMKCCons: #concertoaday Nerding out. Jan Bach: Steel Drum Cto [Cto is a standard abbreviation for "concerto." 140 character limit, remember?] and [Morton] Gould: Tap Dancer Cto @NaxosMusicLib TROY521. [Another reference back to Naxos. And UMKCCons includes the catalog number. So if I'm interested in these works, I have the info I need to track them down and purchase them.] Wish me luck! Can my ears handle it?

     @UMKCCons Two cool pieces I wasn't aware of before. Who says Twitter's useless? (I'm actually finding it to be quite expensive).
[I've ended up purchasing several recordings based on these in-depth conversations with colleagues who share my interests.]

     villa_lobos: You had me at Moderato Nobile - #concertoaday Korngold's Violin Concerto - all the wonder & excitement of early Technicolor

[This is unusual. There are actually two different things going on in this tweet.]
#concertoaday Kurt Weill: Violin Concerto in honor of his birthday on @NaxosMusicLib PSC1090 [Another unsolicited plug for the Naxos Music Library service] @Tom_godell Scottish Fantasy LURV!
[A reference to our earlier conversation about Max Bruch (who wrote the Scottish Fantasy)]

A quite recent #concertoaday today: the Colin Matthews Violin Concerto

March 3, 2010
#concertoaday all 3 Bartok piano concertos. It's that kind of day. If I have to lecture on Schubert, I need one of my favs to get me thru.  
[UMKCCons shares some personal information about his day. Some disparage Twitterers for talking about what they're having for breakfast, etc. But a college professor talking about music to other colleagues in the field, this is simply relevant (and interesting) small talk, which could potentially lead to a conversation about Schubert.]

#concertoaday Music by the finest swordsman in all of France, Joseph Boulogne de Saint-Georges. Violin Concerto in D, Op. 3 (Naxos 8.557322)
[I don't think a lot of people are familiar with Saint-Georges, so I'm providing a little background cast as a teaser. And notice that I'm also sending some traffic to Naxos.]

Today's #concertoaday is the Richard Strauss Horn Concerto no. 2. There's something golden and autumnal about late Strauss. 
[If you don't know this work, this is a wonderfully succinct and evocative characterization.]

#concertoaday is David Chesky's Violin and Flute Concerto (SACD288)
[This link goes the Naxos Music Library Facebook page.]

#concertoaday Villa-Lobos Guitar Concerto - Norbert Kraft's on @NaxosRecords 8.550729 is my favourite
[Another unsolicited endorsement. Why all the Naxos love? Probably because Naxos employees are regularly part of the conversation, and they aren't just there to sell stuff. They converse as real people, chatting about the topic at hand, sharing details of their days, joking, posting pictures, and building a lot of good will for their brand.]

     ralphgraves [I respond publicly to villa_lobos' tweet]
      @villa_lobos Why am I not surprised? [villa-lobos' favorite composer is, of course, Hector Villa-Lobos. Just teasing a little here.] Definitely a good choice, though. And a good recording.
[Another unsolicited endorsement. I have the recording, and I really do like it.]

     villa_lobos: [the conversation continues]
     @RalphGraves #concertoaday is a good choice for the Villa-Lobos lover. His symphonies aren't top drawer - lots to choose from concerto-wise.

If you want to see how the conversation's progressed throughout the month, just use a Twitter search program and look for the hashtag #concertoaday -- or pick a topic you're interested in, put # in front of it, and search for that hashtag. You might be surprised at the results.

Friday, March 05, 2010

The CE Classical Challange - WHRO Responds

Dwight Davis, the program director for WHRO responded to my recent Classical Challenge posting about his station. I think his comments are worth a look. Here's what he had to say:

Thanks for the mostly positive review of our radio station, WHRO-FM. I do have a few comments, however. I tell the staff that we're striving for listenability, whatever else may characterize the music. What matter if the composer is dead, female or blue-eyed? As to the educational component, we educate every time an entry-level listeners hears Vivaldi and decides to stay around. We don't educate by offering the Bartok quartets, as important as they are, because they'd be no listeners to educate. We do, by the way, broadcast concerts by the Virginia Chorale, the Virginia Opera and the Virginia Symphony. Finally, WHRO-FM operates another full-time classical station that addresses some of the concerns of your article. Connoisseur Classics is available on-line at

Below are some highlights of recent programming:

Sunday 2/28/10 – Peter Cornelius’s Stabat Mater; duo-organists Bartelink and Kramer in Boellmann’s Suite Gothique; Carlo Maria Giulini conducts the Beethoven Mass in C; Johann Rolle’s Der Tod Abel; the Missa Brevis of William Mathias

Wed 3/3/10 – SYMPHONIC – William Walton’s Viola Concerto and Symphony No. 2; Eduard Tubin’s Ballad for Violin and Orchestra; Szymanowski’s ballet Harnasie; E.J. Moeran’s Cello Concerto; Mahler’s 7th with Rattle and the Concertgebouw in concert

Thurs 3/4/10 – The British Grenadier Guards; the Sellers Engineering Band plays Redhead’s A Pastoral Symphony and James Curnow’s Legend in Brass; Stanley Drucker plays Leonard Bernstein’s Clarinet Sonata; Julius Rudel conducts the Amadeus Winds in an arrangement of music from Beethoven’s Fidelio

Fri 3/5/10 HISTORICAL – Mravinsky and the Leningrad Philharmonic in Beethoven’s 5th and 7th symphonies; Leopold Wlach plays Mozart’s Clarinet Concerto; Eileen Joyce performs the Piano Concerto by John Ireland; Beecham and the LPO in a suite from Bizet’s Carmen; Sir Adrian Boult and the Concertgebouw in Elgar’s Enigma Variations

Saturday 3/6/10 GRAB BAG – Film scores to “Elizabeth,” “The Snows of Kilimanjaro;” “Jefferson in Paris;” “The Lion in Winter;” “Mary, Queen of Scots;” and “Braveheart” plus Ezra Laderman’s Piano Sonata 3 and Harold Banter’s Fairy Tale Pictures

Sunday 3/7/10 – American Boychoir Songfest; Rogier’s Missa Ego Sum Qui Sum; Bruno Weil conducts Schuebrt’s Mass in A-flat; Josepf Flummerfelt and the Westminster Choir in Barber’s Agnus Dei and Schoenberg’s Friede auf Erden

Monday 3/8/10 CHAMBER – Martin Jones plays Turina’s Variations on a Theme of Chopin; Gorecki’s String Quartet 3; the Amadea Ensemble in Herzogenberg’s Quintet in E-flat; Shura Cherkassky in Chopin’s Variations on ‘La ci darem la mano’

Monday 3/1/10 CHAMBER – More Haydn piano trios with the Beaux Arts Trio; Schubert’s String Quartet 15; the Prague Quartet plays Dvorak’s String Quartet No. 1; music from the 2008 Library of Congress concerts

Tuesday 3/2/10 OPERA – Pierre Boulez conducts Debussy’s Pelleas and Melisande; Norman Triegle is featured in Boito’s Mefistofele with Julius Rudel conducting; Adolphe Adam’s Le Toreador; John Eliot Gardiner conducts Handel’s Jeptha; Carl Loewe’s The Three Wishes; Mozart’s La Clemenza di Tito with Sir Colin Davis conducting

Keep up the good work.

Dwight Davis
Program Director

As you can see, online WHRO is the bomb. (BTW - I couldn't get the link to work, but if you go to WHRO's website, you'll see a link on the left that will open a window for the Connoisseur Classic service.)

And they have an interesting strategy: let the on air signal be the entry-level classical programming, and let those that want to dig deeper go to one of their more specialized online streams. It makes a great deal of sense.

I agree with Mr. Davis: there shouldn't be any kind of quota for women composers, or living composers, or any of the other categories I've been measuring. But there's one point I still want to make.

I think there's a lot of music being written today that is very much listener-friendly, even to novices. And wouldn't it be nice if entry-level classical music listeners got the message that there's tuneful, appealing, moving works being written by folks just like them (at least age-wise)?

What do you think?

(I think I'm tuning in to Connossier Classics).

- Ralph

Wednesday, March 03, 2010

Introducing... Robert Ian Winstin

In my "Fun with [Classical] Numbers" post, I talked about 28intwentyeight by Robert Ian Winstin. Comments both online and off I received about that post suggested I needed to do a follow-up.

Several readers, who had not heard of Winstin before, were under the impression that he was one of the many amateur musicians recording in a basement studio, and that his music's sole exposure was a month's worth of blog posts.

Nothing could be farther from the truth.

Robert Ian Winstin is a professional classically trained concert pianist, conductor, and composer who has actually done quite a bit on the national and international stage. If his name isn't familiar, it may have more to do with the channels we receive our information of classical music from, rather than the quality of his art.

If you only know Robert Ian Winstin from that one YouTube video I posted, read on.

Robert Ian Winstin is the current Composer-In-Residence of the Kiev Philharmonic Orchestra. He also serves as the music director (and chief conductor) to the Virginia Youth Symphony Orchestra, which has toured internationally.

Winstin's written over 200 works, including five symphonies, two piano concertos, and a very moving tribute to 9/11. One of his recent works, Spirituals for Violin and Orchestra, was composed for Itzhak Perlman and premiered in Carnegie Hall -- hardly the output of a basement studio wannabe.

Winstin has also produced a massive amount of recordings for ERM Media, including the "Masterworks of the New Era" series which spotlights contemporary composers writing modern, accessible, well-crafted music. He's also the conductor for those recordings, each release being a multi-disc set. And of course, Winstin has several releases on the ERM label as well.

His recordings are distributed by Naxos, the largest classical music label in the world, and certainly one of the most forward-looking. His compositions can be found on iTunes, ClassicsOnline, and several other download sites.

And he's also authored two books.

Robert Ian Winstin's music can be downloaded from Tower, ArkivMusic, Barnes&Noble, Amazon, HB Direct, and many, many other places.

How could someone accomplish so much and not be a household name? It happens all the time.

Which is sort of my continuing theme with my classical music posts (and my radio show, come to think of it)? There are a lot of talented people out there doing interesting, engaging work on par if not better than the artists we regularly hear about. All we have to do is step a little outside of the ordinary to find it.

- Ralph

Monday, March 01, 2010

Fun with [Classical] Numbers

Classical recording sales vs. views of a new music blog.

This might seem like comparing apples and oranges. But you can do that if what you're really interested in is the makeup of the fruit salad.

The Apple

As Anne Midgette revealed in a Washington Post article,
The dirty secret of the Billboard classical charts is that album sales figures are so low, the charts are almost meaningless. Sales of 200 or 300 units are enough to land an album in the top 10. [Hilary] Hahn's No. 1 recording, after the sales spike resulting from her appearance on Conan, bolstered by blogs and press, sold 1,000 copies.
The article goes on to talk about how even the most heavily-promoted new classical recordings only sell a few hundred copies a week (including downloads).

Is this the end of classical music?

Well, I used to work for a classical record label, and even before the Internet became factor sales were around this same level for most of our titles. It was how the disc sold over the course of several years that mattered (and that's the point the article makes, too). So no, probably not.

The Orange

Composer Robert Ian Winstin recently set himself a daunting task: compose, rehearse, record and post a new piece of classical music every day in the month of February. The project, "28 in Twenty-eight" proved successful in many ways. Winstin did indeed write twenty-eight works, and it attracted an audience as well.

Most of the music was for solo piano (Winstin's a concert pianist as well as a conductor), some were chamber works, and there were even some vocal compositions.

Over 20,000 people visited the blog (and presumably listened to the music), and over 12,000 downloaded the sheet music of the compositions Winstin also made available.

Here's one of the works Winstin composed as part of the project.

Fruit Salad

So let's mix our apples and oranges. Just looking at the raw numbers, it seems more people downloaded Winstin's music then purchased Hilary Hahn's latest major label recording.

So what does that mean?

Well, Winstin's blog was open to all, and the sheet music are free downloads. Hahn's Bach performances are available for sale at fine record stores and download sites. So one could say free trumps paid. But that's not really true. If Winstin charged $.99 for each download, it would be a fairer comparison. What would the numbers be then?

I'm not sure, but in one sense it doesn't matter. If modern music -- and you can't get much more modern than last month -- is such an anathema to listeners as some believe, there shouldn't have been any downloads at all.

Are these really two different audiences? I think so.

Which lead me to this thought. The classical music industry traditionally markets to one of those audiences and virtually ignores the other. But -- just looking at those apples-to-orange numbers -- which one represents a healthier future for classical music?

- Ralph