Reimagining opera during the pandemic

In the current issue of The New Yorker, music critic Alex Ross writes about the multiple ways orchestras have found to reimagine their 2020-2021 seasons (“What Does It Mean to ‘Reimagine’ an Orchestra Season?”; online Nov. 30; print issue Dec 7).  Performances have ranged from outdoor chamber concerts, to streamed concerts of live music played by a reduced number of musicians, to the NY Phil Bandwagon, which during warmer weather presented more than eighty concerts in various sites throughout New York’s five boroughs. Ross’s emphasis is on orchestras, although he does mention an intriguing drive-through “Götterdämmerung” which Michigan Opera Theatre presented in Detroit in October.

Orchestras have been able to reimagine some kind of 2020-2021 season, but opera companies have not. The logistics of assembling soloists, chorus, and orchestra in an enclosed space to produce live opera are insurmountable during a pandemic when singing is known to carry an elevated risk of transmitting COVID-19.  Many opera companies have resorted to streaming previous productions. So the launch of Opera San José’s first fully-staged digital opera production in the midst of the pandemic is particularly exciting. Continue reading

Learning and memory: the role of sleep, exercise, and nutrition

There was a recent article in my local newspaper about students, stress, and learning.  Unfortunately, the article didn’t mention sleep, because sleep is a crucial factor both for alleviating stress and for the encoding and consolidation of memory.  Exercise and good nutrition also play a role in learning and memory.  So  while we tend to think that sleep well, exercise more, and eat less is all we need to know, it’s worth looking at the interconnection of the three and at some recent research that shows how we can help facilitate better learning and memory.
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More music for a time of uncertainty

Classical music critic Michael Andor Brodeur wrote in The Washington Post this morning about why classical music is so important during this time of crisis, and why classical musicians are creating a new space for themselves in the virtual world. His article, In a time of uncertainty, classical music provides a sense of permanence, is a must-read.

Brodeur’s article links to several virtual performances including one by the Cunningham Piano Online Ensemble. Before clicking on the link, I assumed this would be a piano ensemble, but Cunningham Piano is a piano showroom and music school outside of Philadelphia.  The Online Ensemble is made up of 111 musicians from 9 countries performing Mozart’s choral motet “Ave Verum Corpus.”  The virtual ensemble includes students, amateurs, and even a few musicians from The Philadelphia Orchestra in a moving performance.  The West Australian Social Distancing Orchestra (WASDO) performs a “Bit o’ Bolero,” two and a half minutes of Ravel’s Bolero. There are also links to performances from Norway, Spain, Netherlands, Colorado, and more.   Continue reading

Music for our self-isolating times

A friend remarked yesterday that artists are really stepping up during this pandemic, aware that the arts bring people together during times of crisis.  We’ve all seen the videos of Italians singing from their balconies in solidarity and in appreciation to health care workers.  The web is full of playlists and suggestions for listening, and you may be listening to more music than you usually do as you shelter in place or self-isolate at home. Many arts organizations are providing suggestions for listening or viewing, even as they are losing substantial income by having to close down.   Continue reading

Music, synchronization, and teamwork

My husband and I happened to be in Minneapolis a month ago just as the Minnesota Orchestra was beginning its 2019-2020 season, and we went to the opening concert.   The concert, with music by Rautavaara, Grieg, Carter, and Elgar, opened with The Star-Spangled Banner, and all 1800 people in the audience immediately rose to their feet and began singing.  Minnesota has a strong choral tradition, everyone sang at full voice, and the sound of those 1800 voices nearly lifted  me off my feet.  It was an emotional experience, and even though I didn’t know anyone there, the singing together of the national anthem made me feel part of a larger community.  And, in fact, studies show that people who make music together are more likely to cooperate and feel more connected as a group.

The business world has long been aware of  “connectedness through music” and has used string quartets as examples of “self-management teams.”  Many string quartets supplement their musical performance schedules with presentations to companies and organizations exploring teamwork, problem solving, reliability, trust, discipline, and flexibility within the quartet as an example of how an excellent small team works.  You hear the result of that group “connectedness” in the music as they perform.  Success depends on an extraordinary level of teamwork. Continue reading

Musicians are not “the athletes of small muscles”

Musicians are often compared to athletes because, like athletes, we practice a lot, we use repetitive motions, and we’re often performing or playing under stress.  Unfortunately, within the past few years, the comparison with athletes has led to referring to musicians as “the athletes of small muscles.”   I don’t know where this phrase originated, but we need to stop using it.  Not only is the phrase somewhat dismissive of musicians, it simply isn’t accurate.  Continue reading