Piano on a Sand Bar

In a widely reported story, a grand piano has mysteriously appeared in the middle of a bay in South Florida, sitting on a sand bar.

According to the New York Times, it’s been theorized that there’s a connection between the piano and the opening of the New World Symphony’s new campus in Miami Beach. Seems a little tenuous–but we’ll be broadcasting the big NWS concert tonight at 6, so I guess we’ll accept the plug.

Meanwhile, the jokes abound. Piano bar…..Florida Keys……

Duluth-Superior Symphony Musicians Reject Contract Offer

Musicians of the Duluth-Superior Symphony Orchestra rejected their latest contract offer last weekend.

According to a release from the musician’s union, “the issues in dispute include preserving a minimum number of rehearsals, the diminished size of the orchestra, and the musicians’ ability to take on employment elsewhere, which has been affected by the orchestra’s excessively stringent attendance policy.”

Typical DSSO wage is $3500 per year, low enough that musicians want the option to miss rehearsals to take occasional jobs elsewhere in order to supplement their income.

But it’s an interesting conundrum: On one hand, musicians want management to preserve the number of rehearsals, citing quality concerns. At the same time, musicians want to be able to miss more rehearsals; won’t that affect quality as well? Would quality be better if musicians were paid more competitively?

As in all stories, there are certainly many facets to this one, many legitimate points on both sides, and more nuance than can be observed by an outsider. Let’s hope for a satisfactory resolution, so as to avoid the a strike like the current one at the Detroit Symphony, now nearly four months old.

Your Top 10

New York Times writer Anthony Tommasini has opened the flood gates on public opinion. In his January 7th article, he imagines creating a Top 10 list of composers of all time and starts pitting Bach against Handel (assuming only one could make the list). In his follow-up he names the “Vienna Four”: Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven and Schubert. With no lack of space in the digital world, comments on Facebook, Twitter and emails Classical MPR hosts have already begun flowing. So here’s your chance: What does your Top 10 list look like? Don’t be shy!

Update: Who will make the 20th Century list?

Eat, Listen and Be Merry

Here’s a weird question: What does the most delicious pizza (or steak or pasta or cheesecake or ice cream – insert your favorite here) you’ve ever eaten have in common with Samuel Barber’s music?

Answer: Both pizza and Barber will make you happy. Well, of course, you say. Pizza tastes good and Barber sounds good. So, sure, yes, they’ll both make me happy. What’s the big deal?

The big deal is that now science has proven that music makes you happy. According to Malcolm Ritter and the Associated Press, “people like music for the same reason they like eating or having sex: It makes the brain release a chemical that gives pleasure.”

That chemical is dopamine and the music that resulted in the greatest increase in dopamine production? Samuel Barber’s Adagio for Strings, Claude Debussy’s Claire de Lune and the 2nd movement of Beethoven’s 9th Symphony.

The study used PET scans and MRI scans to track the increase, release and flow of dopamine. More dopamine was released when study participants were listening to their self-acknowledged favorite pieces of music than when listening to other music and the study only used instrumental music – not vocal music. Who knows what might happen when the divas start to sing.

Eat on! Listen on! Be happy!

Cyril Harris: he put the cubes in Orchestra Hall

The New York Times reports that Cyril Harris died Tuesday, age 93.

He’s the man who put the cubes in the walls and ceiling of Orchestra Hall in Minneapolis.

orch hall.jpg

Harris was an acoustical engineer who created the sound of hundreds of concert halls, theaters and auditoriums, including Orchestra Hall in Minneapolis, the Metropolitan Opera and Avery Fisher Hall at Lincoln Center in NY, all three theaters at the Kennedy Center, Abravanel Hall in Salt Lake City, Powell Hall in St. Louis, and Benaroya Hall in Seattle. With the coming year-long closure and renovation of Orchestra Hall in 2011-12, we hope that Cyril Harris’ marvelous acoustics will remain untouched!

You can read the complete obit here.

Here's your brain on improvisation…

What is improvisation? Isn’t it just making things up as we go along? And that’s what jazzers do, not classical musicians, right? Does it really make a difference in performance? How does it work and how does it sound?

Members of Cantus join me today to answer your burning questions and discuss the art of improvisation, how they use it and how it sounds when it’s done right. Join us at noon on Classical MPR and get in on the discussion.