On Wednesday I noticed an unfamiliar album in the slop bin that is my iTunes library — Songs of Innocence by a little Irish collective called U2.
The album was made available to half a billion iTunes users fo’ free, just for keeping it real with Apple. Public response was tepid. Actually, icy. First, it’s not very good. Second, users couldn’t remove it from their cherished iPhone 6-Pluses if they wanted to.
The Atlanta Symphony Orchestra is embroiled in a player-management dispute that could doom their upcoming season. At issue: player benefits, salaries, and retirement plans. Management wants to be realistic about costs, players want to be able to make a living, blah blah blah. Here’s the NPR account:
Alas, it is déjà vu all over again for the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra. (…) ASO musicians and management failed to meet the deadline to agree on a new contract after eight months of negotiations. That means the players, while still employees of the orchestra, are effectively locked out of the Woodruff Arts Center (the orchestra’s home) and will not receive paychecks until a new agreement can be ratified. ASO musicians demonstrated outside the hall Tuesday. A similar labor dispute silenced the orchestra exactly two years ago.
It’s a sad day when strikes & lockouts are a normal part of business for arts outfits. When did things get so bad?
On the one hand, we’re used to strikes in various businesses. There was a shortened 2011-12 NBA season. The NFL had its replacement refs last year (seems like a quaint scandal now, huh?). Here in Boston, Market Basket employees rebelled against ownership for a long summer. When there’s millions of dollars at stake, there’s tension over the commas on those outgoing checks.
On the other hand, what the hell kind of world are we living in when every season is a negotiation, when a major orchestra doesn’t know season to season if it’ll be doing the full year, part of the year, or none at all. These are people’s jobs! People bought tickets! The public wants music!
Startup arts groups harbor naked jealousies over the massive endowments and donor lists of major orchestras. So how the hell are we supposed to be jealous if orchestras start imploding? God damn it, Atlanta Symphony, make us green with envy! Solve this and get back to being smug & superior. We all need it.
And in case you wonder what value orchestras bring to their towns, allow the Atlanta Symphony illustrate:
I’m a huge advocate of quiet, solitary downtime. Huge. I loved this Brain Pickingspiece about being alone, and in particular this note about the intensely private Greta Garbo.
Garbo introduced a subtlety of expression to the art of silent acting [whose] effect on audiences cannot be exaggerated… In retirement she adopted a lifestyle of both simplicity and leisure, sometimes just ‘drifting’ … She did not marry but did have serious love affairs with both men and women. She collected art. She walked, alone and with companions, especially in New York. She was a skillful paparazzi-avoider. [S]he chose to retire, and for the rest of her life consistently declined opportunities to make further films. [I]t is reasonable to suppose that she was content with that choice.
To what extent do our still moments — that might seem boring or inscrutable to outsiders — produce the stroke of genius essential for making art? How does solitude help us pay attention to the irrepressible slot-machine of ideas we ignore in our work-a-day world?
Musicians spend a lot of time getting their asses kicked in rehearsal. They spend a lot of time dealing with regular old life, too. But musicians have to spend a lot of damn time on their own: the practice room is the padded cell where they face down their demons. Battle them, tame them. It’s lonely. Those goddamn rooms! No phones, no conversation, just phrases and lines, scales and arpeggios.
But then, there’s a spark.
For a classical musician practice is penance. You learn how to love it. Not love in the lusty, obsessive sense. This is an arranged marriage. You survive it, you control it, and you use it to your advantage.
The problem is, this is a Control-T world, and our distractions are an infinitely-recurring loop.
Sitting in a roomful of people all working on one thing — loud & frenzied — is a powerful tonic, and it may just lead you to that elusive breakthrough. A little head-to-head competition can get your ire up, piss you off enough to bring out your best work.
But something far quieter (and harder) might do the trick too, and quicker. This is the thought uninterrupted: a cluster of still moments opens the mind up, ideas aerate and marinate. Silent, methodical repetition sharpens ideas into knife-edge chops.
Don’t you know that Bad Boys move in silence and violence? –Biggie Smalls
Creation of the universe may have happened in six or seven days — or however that went down — but here on terra firma it takes an Olympic effort just to put down a phone and start something. For some it just ain’t natural. But eventually, ideally, everything falls away, and action begins.
A non-classical friend recently asked me to put together a playlist of classical hits, as a sort of easy on-ramp into the music. First, that’s a cool thing to be able to do for somebody. But it got me thinking — how do you get people to the point where they might be interested in sampling some of the product?