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April 2011
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June 2011

Supreme Court to hear public domain case

In 1994 Congress, following the latest round of GATT talks, voted to remove thousands of works, including musical scores, from the public domain. The rationale was that U.S. copyright laws would now be comparable to those in Europe - at that time many musical scores that were in the public domain in the U.S. were still under copyright in their home country - and this new parity would help protect the rights of U.S. composers, authors, and publishers abroad. If you've ever stumbled across an old set of parts for a Shostakovich or Prokofiev symphony in your school's library and wondered why that piece is rental-only today, this is the reason why.

A case challenging Congress' right to remove works from the public domain is now on its way to the Supreme Court. The plaintiff, conductor Lawrence Golan. The Chronicle of Higher Ed tells the story of Golan's journey from a conductor stymied, as many of us are, by the high costs of copyrighted works, to a reluctant advocate for the protection of the public domain.

Wise words from Colin Davis


The less ego you have, the more influence you have as a conductor. And the result is that you can concentrate on the only things that really matter: the music and the people who are playing it. You are of no account whatever. But if you can help people to feel free to play as well as they can, that's as good as it gets.

Astute observations from conductor Sir Colin Davis. I've always enjoyed his readings of the Sibelius symphonies, No. 7 in particular, and his recording of the epic Elgar Violin Concerto with Hilary Hahn is wonderful as well. You can read more from and about Sir Colin here and here. Photo by Jennifer Taylor.

Do musicians have better brains?

A new study says yes:

New research shows that musicians' brains are highly developed in a way that makes the musicians alert, interested in learning, disposed to see the whole picture, calm, and playful. The same traits have previously been found among world-class athletes, top-level managers, and individuals who practice transcendental meditation.

Summary is here, abstract is here.  Their conclusions are quite interesting:

[Those with high mind-brain development, such as musicians] have well-coordinated frontal lobes. Our frontal lobes are what we use for higher brain functions, such as planning and logical thinking.... Yet another EEG measure shows that individuals with high mind brain development use their brain resources economically. They are alert and ready for action when it is functional to be so, but they are relaxed and adopt a wait-and-see attitude when that is functional.

Musicians also exhibit higher levels of moral reasoning and have more peak experiences.  Fascinating stuff.

Disruptive technologies and intellectual property

NPR had a succinct history of the MP3 a while back. It was an interesting read, and this is what fascinated me the most.

The story of how the [MP3] technology was hijacked and adapted for widespread consumers contains not only the roots of the war that the music industry would later wage over the tiny, compressed, user-friendly files, but also echoes of some of the very ideas that war was fought over: intellectual property, copyright, technology, theft, control and the free distribution of ideas and products that had taken years to realize.

What's notable and disturbing is that Brandenburg and his colleagues were ultimately unable to assert their intellectual property rights once someone copied and distributed their proprietary software used to encode MP3 files. This problem - "the free distribution of ideas and products that had taken years to realize" - made me think of composers and their music, and this post from John Mackey's blog in particular. While John's post deals with unlicensed performances, it still made me wonder what technologies have the potential to impact the classical music world the way the MP3 impacted the recording industry.

Continue reading "Disruptive technologies and intellectual property" »

A great interview with Michael Morgan

Fantastic interview with conductor Michael Morgan in which he talks about what it really takes for an orchestra to become an integral part of its community.  Here are some of my favorite quotes.  It's a GREAT read and I highly recommend you check it out.

On programming:

I think that everyone should be shooting for the widest possible range of things that a symphony orchestra can credibly do. And the members of the symphony orchestra can do all those things; you just have to see how far you can expand your audience — you don’t want toleave your audience behind, either.


Continue reading "A great interview with Michael Morgan" »

Check please

In case you missed it, here is Proper Discord's contribution to Drew McManus's Take a Friend to the Orchestra project. He shares his experiences attending orchestral concerts with non-musicians, and the results are pretty much what you would expect. If the show was good, his guests enjoyed it; if it wasn't, they didn't.

PD explodes (IMHO) the argument that suggests that audience members have to have technical musical knowledge to enjoy musical structures like sonata form. His guests either liked the show or they didn't, and didn't need a technical explanation to justify their reaction. It's like eating out, PD says:

When you’re sitting in a restaurant and your food shows up cold, you don’t care why it wasn’t cooked properly. You just wanted it warm.



"It has indulged...a narcissistic avant-garde speaking in languages that repel the average committed listener..."

Bernard Holland pithily dissects the two basic sets of problems facing American orchestras, in a very perceptive article from 2003:

The free-enterprise system, which worked so admirably to bring the American city its new wealth, transferred poorly to the performing arts. [...] With good management, it is supposed, money and listeners will come rolling in -- again, a symptom masquerading as a cause. Orchestras are not sick because they have bad management. They have bad management because they are sick. Failing industries do not attract top employees.

[...] As for disappearing audiences, no amount of managing will solve that one. Classical music has only itself to blame. It has indulged the creation of a narcissistic avant-garde speaking in languages that repel the average committed listener in even our most sophisticated American cities.

[...] Fleeing audiences are one more symptom, the cause being a public art that has been abandoned by its avant-garde and uses up its given natural resources with profligacy. Audiences are not to blame. They are smarter than Elliott Carter and Milton Babbitt want to think they are.

Definitely worth a read and some reflection....