Wednesday, August 01, 2007

EarPlay - 5 More Alternate Titles for Your Summer Outdoor Concert Listening

Previously in this series I wrote about the National Symphony's summer warhorse concerts at Carter Barron, and offered some titles that could replace some of the more overplayed repertoire. Here are some additional titles, and the sometimes overplayed pieces they can replace without causing a riot in the audience.

From The Planets - Gustav Holst's grand solar system tour for large orchestra gives us the planets "up close and personal," based on the astronomical and popular conceptions of each. Four movements from the eight-movement suite (Pluto hadn't been discovered at the time of composition) work extremely well outdoors on a starry night:

Mars (The Bringer of War). A mean, hammering, violent march, reminiscent of John Williams' music from The Empire Strikes Back.

Mercury (The Winged Messenger). Quick, fast and shimmering, like the scherzo from Mendellsohn's A Midsummer Night's Dream.

Jupiter (The Bringer of Jollity). A enormous, fantastic festival, bright and exotic, with a central theme that runs rings around Elgar's Pomp and Circumstance.

Uranus (The Magician). Conjures grotesque figures, lurking and bouncing, like the brooms in Dukas' Sorcerer's Apprentice. And no Mickey Mouse to be found.

Then back on Earth:

Four Sea Interludes from Peter Grimes - Benjamin Britten forgoes a day at the beach and gives us the ocean, after hours and off-season. Beginning with winds and sea birds diving in the strings, the suite goes on to feature vast ocean swells through low orchestral rumblings, and finishes with an brief yet devastating storm. The flip side of Debussy's La Mer.

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

How To Do It

I sometimes feel that what I read online is like a Monty Python sketch titled "How To Do It." In the sketch, some characters sit on a set and tell us how to rid the world of disease and play the flute. Only they describe it to us, and leave out the details. Basically like those EAP flyers they distribute in the office around Christmas which tell us to "just try to be less depressed" if we're having problems with the holidays.

It's made me look at how I've accomplished my big items, and ask myself exactly how I did it. I came up with the following steps that I've found are absolutely crucial in accomplishing anything. And lest you think I'm just repackaging everyone else's material, I'll provide you examples from my life after the short list that follows:

1. Take your FIRST CONCRETE STEP that can lead somewhere.
Do something. Anything (other than thinking). Just be concrete. Create a list, start a wiki, call a contact, join a seminar, find a coach. Just do something you can grow from.

Preferably an individual or a group that you meet with more than once. Once a week, no less than once a month. And the "ongoing" is crucial. That person or group is going to prod you, give you a place to air your ideas, evaluate your process, and critique your work. She or They will help you through their own stories, and provide a special kind of mirror reflects your ideas through their sensibilities. You'll get suggestions you've never think of, you'll find what's unworkable, and you'll learn that some of your smallest, almost forgettable thoughts are sometimes your best ones.

3. Find ANOTHER MENTOR IF the cost of your first one is too high for you.
There are plenty of people out there who will take your money and give you a packaged product, which you then get to (or have to) implement. Just watch cable TV any Sunday morning and you'll see them selling you the answers to your problems. The best mentors, while not free, should ask for reasonable compensation for their services, and not demand you buy a complete package of materials or stay with them indefinitely.

Most of us suffer from staying too "inside our own heads." We churn our ideas around and around, and think we're doing work. We are doing work, actually, but there comes a point at which the thoughts have to get out of our head in order to become real. I find that keeping thoughts and ideas in my head doesn't allow for them to grow and change. Once they're on the table, and other interested people have a chance to be affected by them - that's when the exciting work starts.

5. TAKE THE RISKS they offer you.
Great mentors drop you in the water and make you swim, perhaps even before you think you're ready. They'll see your abilities without your baggage. The best mentors may even provide you with a practice outlet which can give incredible feedback. But you can't get the feedback unless you swim.

How I Did It: Writing Plays

I began writing plays seriously about ten years ago. A day or two after my decision, and after I started writing stuff down, I met someone at a neighborhood cafe who told me about a group that became my chief mentor for the next six years. DC's Playwrights Forum provided experts and fellow writers for a very reasonable fee. My core group met every two weeks for a 8-session periods. The coordinators of my groups gave me not only ideas to improve my writing, but suggestions on what to write next, or while I was working on a larger piece. Fellow members took roles in readings of my scenes, and provided immediate feedback on what worked and what didn't. The Forum also produced public readings of my work in professional theatres and other arts spaces. The group also ran an annual conference, compiled contest information in the newsletter, offered free tickets to area productions, and communicated my successes to the entire organization.

My part? I wrote, and edited, and polished, and brought stuff in. I read books, sat through rehearsals of professional productions, talked to theater experts, and took my mentor's advice. A year after I joined, I had a one-act produced at a DC theater festival. Each year I was with the group, I had something big happen. I won awards, placed high in competitions, had in-house and public readings, and saw more work produced. The pinnacle of my achievement was having a full-length play of mine produced in Los Angeles.

In writing about this, I see that I'm describing the outcomes - how I met the goals. What I don't talk about much, because it almost goes without saying, is the down-and-dirty, crawling along the ground grunt work I did. And that was basically sitting down at my computer at least three nights a week and writing for an hour. Rewriting. Figuring out how to make things better.

First Steps. Ongoing Mentors. Following Their Advice. Grunt Work. Taking Risks.

So, maybe I can take my own advice, and follow my own rules listed above, for my next set of accomplishments.

Here's the Monty Python sketch, from Episode #28, in its entirety:

Cut to a sign saying 'How to do it'. Music. Pull out to reveal a 'Blue Peter' type set. Sitting casually on the edge of a dais are three presenters in sweaters - Noel, Jackie and Alan - plus a large bloodhound.
Alan: Hello.
Noel: Hello.
Alan: Well, last week we showed you how to become a gynaecologist. And this week on 'How to do it' we're going to show you how to play the flute, how to split an atom, how to construct a box girder bridge, how to irrigate the Sahara Desert and make vast new areas of land cultivatable, but first, here's Jackie to tell you all how to rid the world of all known diseases.
Jackie: Hello, Alan.
Alan: Hello, Jackie.
Jackie: Well, first of all become a doctor and discover a marvellous cure for something, and then, when the medical profession really starts to take notice of you, you can jolly well tell them what to do and make sure they get everything right so there'll never be any diseases ever again.
Alan: Thanks, Jackie. Great idea. How to play the flute. (picking up a flute) Well here we are. You blow there and you move your fingers up and down here.
Noel: Great, great, Alan. Well, next week we'll be showing you how black and white people can live together in peace and harmony, and Alan will be over in Moscow showing us how to reconcile the Russians and the Chinese. So, until next week, cheerio.
Alan: Bye.
Jackie: Bye.