Posts Tagged ‘recording’

Make No Little Plans

Friday, August 16th, 2013

Make no little plans. They have no magic to stir men’s blood and probably will not themselves be realized.

I’ve decided to take this famous quote from Daniel Burnham (1846-1912) to heart.

For too long, this ensemble has been built on little plans. Mostly, the plan has been to wait by the phone for some arts organization to call, inquiring about fees or offering a performance. This has not proved a productive way to get lots of performance opportunities. When a performance has arisen, I’ve scrambled to pull together some repertoire and assemble a cast of players (drawing on a group of familiars).

While I’ve been basically satisfied with the results, it’s not the ultimate goal.

I hesitate to state the true ultimate goal, for fear of sounding insanely over ambitious, but maybe in a future post.

Back to the subject at hand: bigger plans! I have decided that I need to prepare a program that is ambitious and interesting, in advance of any planned performance. I need to find the players that can execute it, and then schedule several performances, as a goal or target. And then work like the dickens to make a great show of it. And really, I’d like to record the result and make it available for sale.

(I’ve spent a fair amount of time at this, with not a whole lot to show for it. A recording would be handsome documentary evidence of the work I’ve done.)

And I want to pick ambitious, challenging and interesting repertoire for this endeavor. At the moment, I am trying to decide between two pieces as the anchor for the performance:

There is a third possibility, Bjorn Berkhout’s Rise, which we have performed in the past, but I feel a need to acknowledge some of the ‘history’ of the double bass quartet.

The program would be rounded out with some lighter fare, probably one of Tony Osborne‘s recent compositions, perhaps some transcriptions.

Or perhaps there is some epic work for bass quartet that I’m not aware of.

I would love to hear what you think in the comments. Which is the work more in need of a current playing? Which would you rather hear, or buy a copy of? (And if you’re a member of the strings subgroup of the Professional Musician’s Network on LinkedIn, I’ve created a poll there asking the same question.)



Struggling Artist or Rock Star: Why Only Two Choices?

Saturday, November 3rd, 2012

A recent article about Cat Power has fueled my thinking about the pigeonholing of artists — both by themselves and others.

I often find I’ve put myself in the trap of thinking that there only two choices: “I’m a starving artist” or “I’m a Rock Star”? That somehow I have to either scrimp and pinch and struggle, or have wild, incredible fame and fortune, and that there’s no in-between. That’s pretty much what the author of the Atlantic Wire article about Cat Power has decided.

But these statements by David Wagner are clearly oversimplifications:

  • “It’s no shock to learn that musicians lead financially precarious lives”
  • “Everyone knows that artists go out on a financial limb by committing to creativity as a career.”

These two statements are FALSE. I know plenty of musicians who make their living playing or teaching music, and live in houses and have mortgages and cars and kids in school. That is, they lead fairly plain, solid “middle-class” lives. No drama. But that’s not an exciting or interesting story, so who’s going to write about it?

Cat Power’s story, essentially about a person making a living but encountering health problems for which they can’t find or possibly afford care, would not be the subject of a news article or even an opinion piece if she were simply a sales clerk at a convenience store, or a bank teller. Imagine the tweet “MAY HAVE TO MISS WORK THIS WEEK ON ACCOUNT OF MIGRAINES AND ASTHMA.” Inspiration for a magazine cover? I don’t think so.

Sidebar: Steve Lawson has also written a brief post in response to the David Wagner article: .

My perception is we’re in a culture that idolizes extremes and isn’t interested in middles. But let’s not digress to politics.

Back to the personal intent I had in writing this post. And that is to briefly explore my attitude towards the work of creating and leading this chamber music group, the Chicago Bass Ensemble. I think I’ve found myself ensnared by the myth that a struggling artist is a great artist. And as a result, I put roadblocks in my own way, so it will look to me like I am struggling and therefore deserve to be great. Examples:

  • Music reading sessions like the one I led last month. Yes, musician’s schedules don’t always line up easily. But tools like Doodle, Google Calendar and PHPList e-mail make it actually pretty simple to find a date. And speaking personally, even finding a space isn’t a HUGE deal. So why do I let months and months go by without setting up reading sessions? So I can have something to complain about! Look, ma! I’m struggling!
  • Finding new music. I agonize about finding music to play (Ma! This such a struggle!). But my friend Dave pointed out to me the other day that I should be able to find and listen to pieces via YouTube. Of course! Duh! Or as Lou Mallozzi at Experimental Sound Studio sometimes encourages me to do, sponsor a call for compositions. It’s just not that hard.
  • Practice. Here’s the deal here: I do NOT currently make a comfortable cozy living as a musician. I work a day job. And I have a family. So, yes, finding time for extended and detailed work in the practice room can be a scheduling problem. But I can, and do, fit in 10 or 15 minutes almost every day (and thanks to Lift, I track it–and my flossing–so I know that in the last 7 weeks, I’ve checked in on “Practice Musical Instrument” 39 times). No struggle, just do it!
  • Getting, and publicizing, performances. Well, I haven’t found the silver bullet on this one yet. I haven’t put in the work to get well-known to presenters and organizations. And I haven’t gone whole-hog on the self-presenting thing yet. Probably the struggle here is just to decide on a course of action: self-promote, or pursue presenters, or just record, or …? Not having a clear direction in mind makes it very hard to take action! So, I’m deluding myself if I say getting gigs is a struggle. Committing to a course of action is what’s needed.

So I started this post off talking about a misdirected view that we have of artists: that they either struggle or live in mansions. I don’t think that is true. I think there are artists who are able to create their art and enjoy their lives, neither crushed under the heel of callous misfortune nor cavorting with the lotus-eaters. Personally, I have fallen into the trap of equating struggle with artistic success. And I am writing this post to force myself, publicly, in front of both of you who read and comment on this blog, to admit that my life just isn’t that hard and I can be successful, even if it doesn’t require struggle to achieve my goals.


Hiatus / Chrysalis

Friday, January 21st, 2011

It probably is not hard to imagine that I’ve put the group under some stress during the last two months, pushing for the kind of excellence that would make a good recording. Thinking about leadership styles came out of that: I didn’t feel that I was getting the kind of “job performance” that I was wanting.

Some of you know that as a day job, I work for, and supervise three other employees. In doing so, I have received training about how to properly give feedback, assign work, evaluate people and do other managerial duties. I am trying to appropriately apply these managerial skills to this group. After the breakdown of plans to record, I decided to have a one-on-one conversation with each of John, Doug and Michael. I did this by telephone, asking each of them to give me twenty minutes to chat with them.

Most of the conversations went quite a bit longer. And they were useful, but had some unexpected consequences.

I had hoped to inspire and challenge everyone to rise higher than we had. But I also wanted to learn how they felt about their own level of commitment, interest and ability to participate. To my surprise, a member whose contributions I have long valued told me he wished to leave the group.

Not long after, as I was laying plans for our participation in the upcoming Chicago Bass Festival, another member expressed grave concerns about trying to integrate a new fourth member on such short notice.

Honestly, I won’t say that I was surprised. I haven’t worked the group as hard as I should have during the past year, and I haven’t done the legwork to provide new material to work on. People get as dissatisfied if the work that is asked of them is too easy and repetitive as they do if it is too challenging. Read Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi‘s Flow for more on this subject.

So, the bottom line is

My next step is to spend time and energy on building up my music library for the bass ensemble. And on building and elaborating my vision for the group (here’s a vision for creating a vision). I plan to continue to comment on both activities here on the blog. I’d love to hear from you.

No Recording for Christmas

Wednesday, December 22nd, 2010

The silence on this subject might have told you all you needed to know. We’ve decided to postpone our recording of Sawtooth Hammer and The Open Sea until sometime in 2011. We just couldn’t get the pieces ready to the point where they felt like we were truly expressing them musically. We were still struggling with technical aspects of the pieces.

As leader of the group, I’m doing a little soul-searching and post-mortem analysis of why we weren’t able to pull this off.

Oh well, on to 2011!

Recording Update, November 29

Monday, November 29th, 2010

Here’s an update of our progress toward recording Sawtooth Hammer and The Open Sea.

For our last three rehearsals, we’ve been diligent about recording takes of each piece, and then using the time between rehearsals to listen, analyze and improve our performances. In last night’s rehearsal, we listened to each recording we made, during the rehearsal. What a great tool for finding, discussing and fixing problems.

We made great progress last night. But the four of us agreed that we weren’t quite ready to lay these tracks down in a permanent way yet. There are still some rough edges, and some places where the tempi sag just a bit.

We are also learning a bit more about each piece as we work in this focused way. For instance, even though we’ve been performing Sawtooth Hammer for some time (two years?) we are still uncovering what drives it motivically. I’m also giving thought to how these pieces should be placed in the stereo field.

Next steps? Find a new date for recording–I’m still hopeful to finish this before the end of the year. And practice, practice, practice!

It’d be lovely to see some comments other than come-ons for website traffic building and other junk. Submit yours below!

Rehearsals and Meetings

Tuesday, November 16th, 2010

Great news to report this week. I hope you’re both still reading.

We’ve all but finalized our rehearsal schedule leading up to recording. If all goes well, we will spend three hours on December 6 recording Seth Boustead’s Sawtooth Hammer and The Open Sea by our own Doug Johnson. Hudson Fair, Ealing Mobile Recording’s Tonmeister and Grammy-award winning recordist will work with us. (Plaxo, LinkedIn)

As a group, we had a meeting to discuss some details. You never know if we’ll hit it big in one shot (it doesn’t hurt to dream!), so I wanted to air some things. I refer to them briefly here, in case others can learn from my experience.

  • We’re comfortable going without a producer, this time around. Hudson has great ears, so I think we can trust his judgement. And bringing another person, in some sense a fifth member of the quartet at this point feels like an extra burden of explanation and learning–sort of the “mythical man month” concept–just when the clock is ticking most furiously.
  • The rest of the group is willing to get paid after I’ve made back my expenses from the recording, rather than taking an upfront “buyout” payment for the recording session. Let me explain some thinking about this:
    • Hudson gets paid no matter how these recording sell. Is it fair that the musicians, who will have put in much more time get nothing? I didn’t think so either, so I made sure to offer a “buyout” payment.
    • Doug, Michael and John are my friends as well as members of the group, so I don’t mind sharing the profits, whether they are large or small.
    • I work a full-time day job, so I have the luxury of not worrying whether profits and shares of them are large or small.
    • Some of this might be somewhat unconventional, but I think it will work out. Hopefully the union won’t bust my chops. I support my union, I believe in the ideal of what it does, but I don’t have the scratch to pay scale for this. When we make it huge, noone will mind that the first couple of recording sessions were done in this way. Anyway, as a group we’re in this together; I’m not the Man trying to cheat the rest of the guys.
  • Using my Zoom H4, I’ll record at least one take of each piece at all of our upcoming rehearsals, and share them with the guys so they can analyze them in between rehearsals. I hope we can maximize our progress in polishing these pieces up by doing that.

Stay tuned for more news, and keep those thousands of comments rolling in!

Jacque Harper

Progress and Plans

Sunday, November 7th, 2010

A very quick update on the progress I’m making towards the goal of recording Seth Boustead‘s Sawtooth Hammer and Doug Johnson‘s The Open Sea before the end of November.

  • We’ve got some tentative dates for rehearsals scheduled.
  • I’ve traded messages with recordist Hudson Fair of Atelier Hudsonic, to check his interest in assisting.
  • I’ve been constantly practicing the tricky bits.
    • Sawtooth Hammer in particular has some blazingly fast poly-tonal runs that need to be clean, clean, clean.
    • I’m playing the low part on The Open Sea, and really clean articulation and rhythmic accuracy are demanded.

On the “Plans for 2011” front, I’m working on or thinking about the following:

Got any ideas for us you’d like to suggest? Leave a note in the comments!