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Milwaukee Symphony dives into iTunes


Last year the Milwaukee Symphony became the first American orchestra to sell archival recordings in iTunes. Their press release states:

The Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra announced the launch today of MSO Classics, an e-label created specifically for digital distribution of its recordings at the iTunes Music Store and other digital music stores and services, including Yahoo! Music, Napster, RealNetworks Rhapsody, and MusicNet outlets including AOL, Virgin, and HMV, via a worldwide digital distribution deal with IODA, the Independent Online Distribution Alliance. The Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra is the first American orchestra to distribute, through digital music stores, recordings previously unavailable for purchase. Performances on “MSO Classics,” an e-label owned by the Symphony, will be available for 90 days, beginning today, exclusively on the iTunes Music Store – the world’s most popular digital music store.

“The Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra has always been a pioneer – in the world of new music, through innovative programming and by being the first American orchestra to visit Cuba,” said Andreas Delfs, MSO Music Director. “Now a new age for classical music distribution has begun, and we are pioneers once again.”

I firmly believe that iTunes and other forms of online distribution will be a huge thing for symphonic music in America and the rest of the world. The “good old days” of frequent recordings beefing up the paychecks of symphony musicians are long gone. New methods of distribution need to be explored, and symphony orchestras are finally beginning to take some progressive steps.

I have written about classical music and iTunes several times in the past. You can read about other classical music/iTunes developments on these previous posts:

New iTunes innovations

Last holdout bands join iTunes
Big demand for classical downloads

It is great that the Milwaukee Symphony is also putting their music up on IODA Promonet. Many people may not be aware of Promonet–it is a service similar to the Podsafe Music Network, only for musicians on record labels. The PMN is generally for independent artists. Promonet allows podcasters to play certain tracks from artists on their podcast, and as podcasting continues to mushroom in popularity this will be an increasingly smart way to market classical music. Podcasting is great for narrowcasting to a specific audience. The audience for classical music is a small but loyal percentage of the population, and as podcasts continue to become more mainstreamed and more classical music fans start subscribing it will be perhaps the best way to market this music. Being ne of the first to market will be a very good thing for the Milwaukee Symphony.

The Milwaukee Symphony should start a podcast about their upcoming performances, play clips from their archives, and offer links to purchase the archived tracks from iTunes on their website.

I would love to see orchestras begin to organize their websites like a blog. Each week could be a new blog entry on the website. That entry would include a podcast for the week highlighting the music being played, links to download all of the tracks from the orchestra archives (for a fee), embedded video of an interview/performance clip with either the guest artist, conductor, orchestra musician, or music lecturer, a blog entry about what was happening behind the scenes for that week (see Brian Dickie‘s blog for a great example of this kind of blog), and Amazon/Borders/Barnes & Noble links to purchase albums containing these pieces. Orchestras could set up affiliate accounts with these three companies and thereby get a cut of each recording sale even if they had no involvement with the recording.

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September 11, 2006 Posted by | iTunes, Music, Orchestra, podcast | 1 Comment

Musician’s Etiquette


Matthew Wengerd bought this post to my attention recently. It is from oboeinsight, a great music blog. Oboeinsinght is definitely worth checking out, even if you don’t play a double reed instrument. The writing is insightful and educational and covers a wide variety of musical topics:

All-The-Time Etiquette

  • Rehearsals and performances should be scent-free zones. This doesn’t mean we allow body odor though! So use that unscented deoderant, but refrain from colognes and perfumes.
  • If you are sitting second, never play the principal’s solos while warming up! It’s just not done. Even at the rehearsals.
  • Don’t play other instruments’ solos either. Rude (again).
  • When the concertmaster tunes the orchestra, stop playing and be quiet. (Unless, of course, you’re playing first — then tune the orchestra!)
  • Be quiet. (I can’t tell you how many times I hear orchestra members yakking … sometimes even during performances!)
  • Don’t conduct. Really. You may think you know more than the conductor. You may think you can do a better job. And that could even be true. But it’s rude. Don’t do it.
  • Don’t stare at one of your colleagues when you aren’t playing. Even if he or she has a solo. That way, if a mistake is made, you won’t be accused of staring “because I made a horrible mistake” … believe me I’ve heard folks accuse others of this.
  • In the same vein … DON’T ever look over at someone after he or she has made a mistake! That is so incredibly rude it’s inexcusable. We feel bad enough when we make mistakes. We don’t need to know you know! Don’t grimace, laugh, shake your head, or anything else either. In other words: DON’T REACT!

Read the complete post here.

Musician’s etiquette consists of a great deal of minutiae not usually obvious to non-musicians. A non-musician might not even be aware that someone in the orchestra is being rude or obnoxious. Turning around and watching a colleague play a solo is considered very rude, for example.

Personal behaviors that are considered acceptable in daily life can be very distracting in the orchestra. Obvious frustration after making a mistake is not acceptable. Turning and looking at a person that has just made a mistake (even worse–laughing at them) is a bad idea.

Old disagreements and feuds boil and simmer over a period of years in an orchestra. The same may be true in an office setting, but musicians tend to be more highly-strung, sensitive, and insecure, so small slights take on a magnitude of their own.

Even though I like to think that I am a fairly tolerant person, I completely lose it when someone starts playing my solo to goof around before a concert. Even though I know the person is not being malicious or trying to show me up, some reptilian part of my brain kicks in and I have to resist the urge to slug them.

Perfume or cologne is a really bad idea for musicians. You may like how it makes you smell, but no one on stage does. If you want to annoy 25-50% of the orchestra (I can smell perfume on a musician from many rows away) then go for it, but it is probably not the wisest idea.

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September 10, 2006 Posted by | Music, Orchestra | 2 Comments

New Hall for the Nashville Symphony


The Nashville Symphony is set to open its new $120 million Schermerhorn Symphony Center this fall. This orchestra has really turned itself around in the past several years–it is now one of the fastest growing orchestras in the United States.

Here is a quite from a recent Polyphonic.org story:

Did you hear? They’re building a $120 million symphonic concert hall in Nashville. You read that correctly; it’s not a typo – Nashville, Tennessee. Even more, the Nashville Symphony Orchestra Association owns and operates the 197,000-square-foot neo-classically inspired Symphony Center that maintains the goal of transforming Nashville’s musical landscape and becoming the cultural heart of the city’s downtown area.

Designed by architect David M. Schwarz, acoustician Paul Scarbrough, and Fisher Dachs Associates, the Schermerhorn Symphony Center is designed to be one of the most acoustically advanced concert halls in the world. In addition to the 1,870-seat Laura Turner Concert Hall, the center will contain a 3,000 square-foot education center, the organization’s administrative offices, numerous musician facilities, and a full commercial kitchen. Another highlight of the new building is a garden and cafe, enclosed by a colonnade which is connected to the west side of the building. The garden will be open to the public throughout the day and during concerts.

Read the entire story (An Orchestral Cinderella Story) here.

Getting a new hall is a huge thing for a symphony orchestra. Although raising the money required for a new hall (usually over $100 million these days) can be a daunting task, it almost always improves the fortunes of the ensemble. Good acoustics, pleasing aesthetic layout, even trivialities like modern restrooms and concessions make a big difference in the audience’s experience. Please the audience and you get people in the seats and donating money. Also, the owners of this hall will be the Nashville Symphony. This is a huge thing for the orchestra. It is very advantageous for an orchestra to own their own hall rather than be a primary renter of a hall.

A hall also cements the orchestra as a more fundamental part of the cultural life of the city. Part of the reason why orchestras like the Florida Philharmonic (see related story) folded is because of the difficulty in identifying with an orchestra that only plays part time in your community.

The Elgin Symphony, of which I am a member, is in the early stages of planning a new hall. I can’t wait to see how that will affect the orchestra’s future when it gets built. Orchestras may not want to admit it, but the facilities are a significant reason why classical audiences come to concerts. Which phrase is more likely?

  • I went to Carnegie Hall!
  • I saw the Moscow Chamber Players play, and they happened to play at Carnegie Hall!

Visit this page and click ‘Listen to the Nashville Symphony‘ to hear the Nashville Symphony Orchestra performing Samuel Barber’s Essay No. 2 under the direction of their artistic advisor, Leonard Slatkin.

Visit this page to see a backstage tour of the new Schermerhorn Symphony Center.

September 2, 2006 Posted by | Music, Orchestra | 2 Comments