Category Archives: Music

A Day for Arts and Culture

For those of you have been following my blog, you know that over the last couple of summers I have traveled for internships to fulfill the requirements of my Masters in Arts Management from George Mason University in Virginia. 

My focus during my time at Mason was on international arts management, as I hope to one day move out of the United States and work in the arts or cultural realm abroad. England is a good place to start, I think, for someone who is interested in arts policy and fundraising because, despite still being quite different from the US, the UK has the closest related system that wouldn’t be such a stretch to learn and adapt to. 

That being said, I had hoped to visit several performing arts organizations during this trip and have a chat with some of the administration just to get a feel for what it might be like to work in the UK, and in London specifically. As you know from my previous posts, it didn’t really happen. 

But today I was able to visits several different arts and cultural organizations that have solidified even more my desire to someday move to and work in Europe. 

The first stop today was at the Royal Academy of the Dramatic Arts. It’s been a dream of mine to visit this amazing school that had produced some of the finest actors Britain had ever known, as well as top-level theatre technicians and set/costume designers.

Sadly, my friend Jeniffer and I were not allowed to visit any classrooms, but we did get a chance to speak to a woman who works at the cafe which is open to the public. She was able to tell us a lot about how the school functions and what it takes to be a student at RADA. We would have loved to see a performance, but the school had just opened again from winter break, so there was no chance of that happening. Guess I’ll just have to come back sometime. 



We then returned to the British Museum. The forty-five minutes there the other day was simply not enough to fully grasp the amazing amount of knowledge and artifacts available in these halls. 

Jeniffer and I walked through ancient Egypt, ancient Greece, ancient Rome, medieval Europe, and the empire of the Mayans. There were some famous pieces like the Rosetta Stone, the Lewis Chess Pieces, and the double-headed turquoise serpent. Tons of lesser known, but no less important, pieces grabbed our attention and filled us with wonder and interest. 




We could have easily spent another couples of hours than we did in the British Museum because we didn’t see anything from the Middle East, Asia, or Africa. Such an amazing museum!

Once we left the British Museum, we headed across town by Tube for the Victoria and Albert Museum. This is a world-famous museum, yet none of the exhibits really caught my fancy. That is to say, except one in the history of underwear. It was a special exhibit, however, requiring a tickets and I was already spending so much money today that I thought it would be best not to go. 

There were some pretty things-mostly clothing and instruments from the 19th century. But soon we decided to move on to something a little more interesting. 


That something happened to be right nearby. 

Royal Albert Hall is a fantastic performance venue that presents all sorts of acts. The big show they are currently advertising is an act from Cirque du Solei called Ama Luna. 

We didn’t get to go inside and explore, but it was cool to be able to see the venue again and be reminded of good memories from the NEYE 2009 tour. 


One thing I don’t remember doing the last time I was here was walking around the back of the Hall and seeing the monument to Queen Elizabeth as well as the Royal College of Music. 



While we still were not able to explore classrooms and the like, Jeniffer and I were able to see a lot more of the building than we did at RADA. There was gorgeous marble everywhere and mosaic-tiled floors. No performances were taking place, but it sounded like a rehearsal of an opera or something was taking place in the hall. 

As if all that wasn’t enough, the final touch was to see a performance of Wicked at the Apollo Victoria Theatre. 

Wow. Just wow. 

I was completely blown away by the sets, the costumes, the lights, the orchestra, the actors, and of course, the music. No spoiler warnings, but I will say that it definitely helps to be familiar with the Wizard of Oz story, either from the original book or the 1939 film, in order to catch or understand all the references in this phenomenal musical. 

It was a treat for me (so much cheaper to see it here than on Broadway), but it was an extra special treat for Jeniffer because she had never been to a musical before. What a show to give a first impression of the wonderful world of musical theatre!


It truly has been a wonderful day, my second to last in London. I have yet to see what my final day will be filled with, but I’ll be sure to share tomorrow. 

-Wandering Minstrelette

PS – I hope you’ve been enjoying the pictures I’ve been sharing. They were all taken from my iPhone 7. 

Westminster and Leicester

I didn’t walk quite as much today as I did yesterday. 

Mostly, it was because two of the attractions I went to involved standing in line and the third was all sitting. 

With a rather late start to the day, I decided to pick a point and explore around it. I had mentioned in an Instagram post that I was planning on getting closer to Big Ben today and I very well succeeded. 

The clock tower was looming over pedestrians right at the exit of Westminster Underground Station. 

As the Parliament building was right there, I thought I would visit. It wasn’t something I had done before and was hoping maybe to get closer or even inside Big Ben. 

However, admission only allows so many entrants every 20 minutes and since I had come by lunch time, a good portion of the day was already full. The next available entrance time was three hours or so later. 

I took it anyways, figuring I could fill my time with something else nearby. And of course, right next to the Parliament Building is Westminster Abbey. 

I can’t remember whether I went into the Abbey last time I was in London. Since no pictures are allowed inside the space, I have nothing to reference. We must have gone in, but I thought it was worth to go just in case. 


The Abbey is an interesting place. The hall for worship is beautiful and the sections where the choir sings, coronations take place, and the most recent royal wedding happened are exquisite. The rest is an interesting mixture of tombs, memorials, and out of the way rooms for prayer. 

Some of the most interesting for me were G. F. Handel, David Livingstone, Sir Issac Newton, Henry Purcell, Charles Dickens, all three Brontë sisters, Shakespeare, and sister queens Elizabeth and Mary. There were many musicians, literary artists, politicians, and of course, members of the royal family from across (literally) centuries were represented there. 


Westminster is an active church, holding services every Sunday and holding moments of prayer every hour throughout the week. How interesting it must be to attend a church with so much history and that most people view only as a historical symbol. Also, I can’t imagine working at the Abbey. 

Residence in the Abbey of an Abbey staff member. I wonder if all clergy and worship leaders are required to live there.

To be in charge of music (official title being Organist and Master of Choristers) or even to be a member of the Abbey choir must be such an amazing honor and a heavy burden, knowing the great standard of musicianship that is expected.  

In case anyone is interested, there is an annual apprenticeship position in the Abbey to work along the official Organist and Master of Choristers and their two assistants. There are also other vacancies In case anyone is looking for something new and interesting to do. 

Taken with my iPhone 7, thank you very much.

I left the Abbey with just enough time to grab a quick sandwich, crisps (chips), and a Kinder Egg (illegal in the States, so I had to get one) before making my appointed time to the Parliament Building. 


The surprise from my Kinder Egg!

Now this building I know I had never been in before, and I’m so glad I chose to spend the couple of hours walking through and listening to the audio tour to learn more about how the United Kingdom’s government developed and functioned. 

Part of the tour included visiting the rooms where the House of Lords and the House of Commons function and debate. Everything in the hall for the Lords was red and for the Commons green. Made for some interesting items in the shop afterwards. 

There was a story shared about the position known as the Black Rod (House of Lords), which is like the Sergeant-at-Arms for the House of Commons. Back in 1642, someone from the House of Lords wanted to arrest five members from the House of Commons, but the members of the latter house refused to let it happen. Since then, there has been an annual ceremony of the Black Rod coming to the House of Commons to summon the MP’s to the State Opening Speeh of Parliament, but the door gets slammed in his face. This is supposed to represent the autonomy of power that the House of Commons has from the House of Lords. The Black Rod then has to knock on the door three times with his staff before he is attended to and finally can make the proper summons. 

It’s an interesting display of tradition and ceremony that I would like to discuss further, but not at this time. 

The Parliament Building overall is very grand and majestic. Sadly, we weren’t allowed nearer or inside Big Ben. I also don’t have too many pictures to share because like the Westminster Abbey, photos were allowed throughout most of the building. 

Westminster Hall – at the time it was completed, it was the largest hall of it’s kind in Europe. It’s ceiling/beams are very special and unique.

St. Stephen’s Chapel

Grabbing a hot tea in the cafe before leaving the Parliament Building, I was able to ask one of the staff what I should do with my evening (that didn’t involve drinking – he found that amusing). After thinking a bit, he suggested I go up to Leicester Square where I could find some cinemas that screened a wide variety of blockbuster, independent, and vintage films. 

I made my way to the square and passed by yet another throwback to memories from 2009 – Trafalgar Square, the Lord Nelson column, the National Gallery, and the Academy of St. Martin-in-the-Fields. Maybe I’ll be able to go back there tomorrow for a proper visit!

After walking another 10 minutes or so, I finally reached Leicester Square and started looking for the cinemas. Kind of hard when they are not clearly marked on maps and you don’t have cell service… But as I wandered around trying to find them, I noticed posters for different theatre productions. Then I realized the street name on one of the posters was the same as the street I was on and it hit me – I was in the West End!



Forget the cinema, I instantly decided I was going to see a musical. 

I had to make a decision fast – performance started in roughly 45 minutes and there were so many to choose from! I wanted something that wasn’t going to be easy to find in Broadway or the Kennedy Center and that had a distinct British flavor to it. 

All that in more was in the delightful show, “Half a Sixpence.” For £25, I had an amazing seat in the Noël Coward Theater to a show I knew nothing about and ended up thourougly enjoying. Sweet, heartwarming, and filled with fun songs and breataking choreography (especially from the lead actor), I could not have picked a better show to be my first experience on the West End. 


If you are, or will be, in London in the near future, absolutely come see “Half a Sixpence.

I hope in my time here I will be able to see some other performances, including something in the Globe and at the Royal Albert Hall. If I plan things right, I might be able to even meet with some of the administration of these organizations. Making connections is always a good thing. 🙂

A full day is gone and another is just ahead. Keep a look out for tomorrow’s post and don’t forget to check out my Instagram: @wanderingminstrelette

-Wandering Minstrelette

Sounds of Life

As I get older, I’ve noticed that I have become more aware of sound. Maybe it has something to do with being a musician? I’m not sure, but what I can tell you is that when you start opening your ears to the sounds that surround you, you begin to notice things you never did before. 

My mom, her two co-workers and I explored some more of 16th Street today in Denver and found four more painted pianos. Honestly, how cool is this project?

   
   
Sadly, most of them were really bad sounding but there was one piano, bright pink, that was in family good condition. When we came across it, a man was serenading a woman at her request and wow, was he good. 

  
Continuing down the street we came across a share a travel story campaign, and people were quietly writing and hanging their tales to twine hung between trees. The pages rustled in the wind, encouraging passersby to stop, read, and dwell on the stories they told.  

 

At one point contagious laughter filled the air as people sat in red chairs with bottoms shaped like tops (yes, I realize that is confusing) and going for a spin while trying not to fall off.  

 

People mingling, buses chiming, music playing – all these filled the senses as one walked through downtown Denver. 

The sounds didn’t stop there. My second cousin, who was the main reason I chose to visit Colorado, picked me up in the afternoon to take me to his home in Broomfield. 

His nearly four-year-old son warmed up to me very quickly and within a span of a few hours we had already been on so many adventures with our imaginations, one would think we had gone around the world and back. Hearing a child tell you a story, having them tell you about the world from their point of view, is so heart-warming and eye-opening.  

  

 We should all spend more time engaging with and listening to little children. They would teach us so much. 

The evening was filled with the melodies and rhythm of samba. My cousin is a Brazilian percussionist and teacher who specializes in samba. I had the privilege of attending one of his workshops and learning the basics of how to play pandeiro, tambourín, and other Brazilian percussion followed by a two hour battería (Brazilian marching band) rehearsal. Talk about a lot of sound! 

  

 
I know a lot of people who are not fans of percussion only ensembles, but I love them. I love how the sounds fill the room and the rhythms are so strong you feel them vibrate between your ribs. 
When you think about it, everything in life is about rhythm. Percussion ensembles are simply stripping away to the bare bones of the sounds of life. 

Finding your rhythm in the ensemble of life is what we are all called to do. Sometimes the patterns are more difficult, but if we keep at it and remain sensitive to the sounds around us, we will all eventually find our place in the band and together, we can produce some marvelous works. 

Here’s to you, reader. May you find your part in the ensemble if life. 

-Wanderjng Minstrelette

PS – If you are interested in hearing some of my cousin’s music, check out their website: http://gingaband.com

PPS – If you are interested in becoming a part of the Boulder Battería, please contact the community center they rehearse in: https://intercambio.org.

A Life That Blesses Others

“He who believes in Me, as the Scripture has said, out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.” John 7:38

I want to live a life that blesses other people, in all aspects of life. I desire to see with the eyes of God that I can perceive the needs of those around me. I desire to hear with the ears of God, allowing myself to be the support and the encouragement to lift someone up. I desire to work with the hands of God that reaches out to those in need and provides the food, the clothing, the shelter that is necessary for their survival and betterment. I desire to embrace with the arms of God to comfort those who are suffering. I desire to walk with the feet of God, that my path will always be directed by the Holy Spirit and that I will always be willing to walk and spend time with others that they might come to know their value. I desire to speak with the voice of God, and lead every conversation to Christ that those whom I interact with might choose Him as Lord and Savior.

My greatest desire is to be used by the Lord for His great and wonderful purposes and to be a blessing to all whom I interact with. I might be the only Bible someone will ever read. May God work with me, mold me, that I can be best used to His glory. And may He do the same with you.

“Everyone in whose heart Christ abides, everyone who will show forth His love to the world, is a worker together with God for the blessing of humanity. As he receives from the Savior grace to impart to others, from his whole being flows forth the tide of spiritual life.” EGW, The Acts of the Apostles, 13.

Prayer Suggestions:

Praise God that He is an eternal God, a patient and loving God, He is our strength (Ps. 27:1), and He is our resting place (Jer. 50:6).

Praise God that He is willing to use us to bless others, even though we have flaws and make mistakes.

Praise God that it is not we ourselves but Christ living in us that touches and blesses lives.

Ask God to show you which sins to confess openly and which to confess privately. Claim His victory over those sins.

Ask God for forgiveness for times when your life was not a blessing to others.

Ask God for forgiveness for times when you were more concerned about being successful than serving Him.

Thank God that He forgives you according to 1 John 1:9.

Pray that God will give you faith when the devil tries to discourage you from ministering to others.

Ask God to give you a burden for souls and a love for His lost children.

Pray for an attractive, Christ-like character that will draw people to Jesus.

Pray for every member to feel a burden for soul winning and realize that heaven asks everyone to follow in Christ’s steps by sharing their personal faith with God’s guidance.

Pray for the use of every appropriate social media format to share the three angels’ messages in a creative and fresh manner with the busy people of today.

Pray for increased participation in evangelistic outreach by all church members and institutions as they support the ongoing mission of the church.

Pray for the establishment of thousands of ‘centers of influence’ (churches, health centers, daycare centers, literature centers, community outreach centers, youth centers, vegetarian restaurants, clinics, and many more), especially in large cities around the world, and pray that these centers make a huge difference in people’s lives as they experience God’s truth through Christian service.

Pray for any personal needs you have.

Thank God that He wants to use us and not the angels to be co-laborers with Him to bless others.

Thank God that Jesus set an example for us of how we can be a blessing to others.

Thank God that He is sending the Holy Spirit to work on the hearts of the people you are praying for.

“The humblest and poorest of the disciples of Jesus can be a blessing to others. They may not realize that they are doing any special good, but by their unconscious influence they may start waves of blessing that will widen and deepen, and the blessed results they may never know until the day of final reward. They do not feel or know that they are doing anything great. They are not required to weary themselves with anxiety about success. They have only to go forward quietly, doing faithfully the work that God’s providence assigns, and their life will not be in vain. Their own souls will be growing more and more into the likeness of Christ; they are workers together with God in this life, and are thus fitting for the higher work and the unshadowed joy of the life to come.” EGW, Steps to Christ, 83.

May you be blessed!

-Wandering Minstrelette

 

Star Power

It’s not often that one gets to share a space with a living legend, but on Thursday night last week I was in a room full of them. 

  
The Berlin Philharmonic is one of the greatest symphonic orchestras of the world, and is most certainly the most well-known. Their history is interwoven with pride and disappointments, but there is no doubt that they have managed to make themselves the golden standard by which nearly every orchestra measures themselves. 

I had heard the Berlin Phil once before at the Kennedy Center in Washington, DC. How cool would it be, I had thought, if one day I could see them on their home turf? 

   

One of the first things I planned to do when I knew I was coming to Berlin was to go see a performance. However, tickets tend to go fast, especially when you have well-known conductors thrown into the mix. 

Gustavo Dudamel, another living legend (and quite a young one, for that matter), was going to conduct this amazing ensemble in a performance of W.A. Mozart’s Serenade for Posthorn and Gustav Mahler’s Symphony No. 1. Dudamel is especially known for his remarkable interpretations of works by Mahler, so I’m pretty sure that everyone in town who cares about classical music (which is actually quite a lot of people here) knew and planned to attend. 

The performance was completely sold out, but I was able to purchase a standing room only ticket for €10 by waiting in line for about an hour and half just before the concert. There were plenty of others with me, too, hoping that they would have a spot for the concert. 

  
Never in the States have I ever heard of people scrambling to get a ticket to attend a classical concert. Do we even have standing room only options available? Of the entire Philharmonie Großer Saal, which holds 2,440 people, I saw 4 empty seats. Even those were filled in the second half by those who had originally been standing. I am pretty sure that the major orchestras in the area where I live – the National Symphony and the Baltimore Symphony – would love to have that kind of ticket available if the demand was high enough.  

Anyways, there I was at the very back of the hall, standing. The first musicians began to appear and the audience began to clap. They just showed up and they were being praised! This city truly loves their orchestra. 

I also was able to make out that the first flute player was Emmanuel Pahud, a brilliant performer and one of my musical role models. I totally fan-girled. I think the other people around me must have been wondering if there was something wrong with me. His playing was so beautiful, so effortless… There is definitely a reason why he is the principal flute of this renowned ensemble. 

Then Dudamel appeared. For a few seconds, I wondered if I was in a rock concert instead. This young conductor has nearly single handedly changed the perception of what classical music can be and every one loves him for it. 

First, the Mozart. It was instantly recognizable as a work of Wolfgang from it’s style and almost happy-go-lucky sound. Dudamel seemed to be barely doing anything, so as not to distract for the glorious work the orchestra was producing. The players seemed to me to work as one giant instrument – even from where I was standing, I could see that everyone moved together and even breathed together. The Posthorn soloist appeared only for one movement of the work, and did a great job at showcasing this unusual, and I am sure rather difficult, instrument. Overall, the entire work sounded like velvet to my ears. Smooth,comfortable, approachable. At the end, a great applause erupted – and it was only intermission!

The Mahler was absolutely glorious. Once again, Dudamel seemed to be doing as little as possible (which was a surprise, I expected him to be a bit more showy…) but was pulling amazing sound and emotion from the orchestra. It had been a long time since I had felt so moved and elevated by a live performance, but there was no way that anyone could not have felt something. Each movement was more wonderful than the last and the different sections all had a chance to be showcased throughout the work. 

Pahud sounded amazing (How I would love to play like him…) and his teamwork with the principal oboe player to make what we call the “floboe” sound was true perfection. Honestly, the whole orchestra was the sound of perfection. 

When the last sounds of Mahler faded away, the packed hall burst into cheers, whistles, applause, and shouts of “Bravo!” This lasted for at least 7-8 minutes. Dudamel had to appear three times (the last with the orchestra already off the stage) before people would subside and start making their way out of the hall. 
  
When a long-held dream of yours finally comes true, things can seem a little surreal. But it was true – I had seen the Berlin Philharmonic at their resident performance hall, with their principal flutist in the ensemble, performing amazing works, and being conducted by one of the greatest conductors of our time. Living legends with a ridiculous amount of star power – and I was there. 

I can actually say I was there…

What an amazing night!

Do you have a have an experience of encountering a living legend or another influential figure? I’d love to hear about it. 

Until next time – happy travels.

-Wandering Minstrelette

Nostalgic Weekend

This weekend was like stepping back into time. 

It has been six years since I was last in Austria. Six years ago, I had come to the Bogenhofen/Salzburg region with a group of 40+ individuals on the first major orchestra tour of my college career. That tour is still the one I tend to speak about most often, and it started in Austria. 

It was here that I saw cute houses around every corner. It was here that I really fell in love with German. It was here that I knew I wanted to be a musician for the rest of my life. It was here that I met my best friend and brother from another mother, Michael. It was here that I knew I would some day return to. 

Bogenhofen Seminar Scholss is a school where high school students and theology students come to learn while living in the beautiful “heart of Europe.” The school also has a language program where international students come to learn German. I had wanted to come during my college years, but sadly it never happened. Perhaps it still will? We’ll have to wait and see… 

 

Schloss Door in 2009
  
Schloss Door, 2015
 The campus was more beautiful than I remembered. Ever corner brought memories of different antics and stories from my time there with the NEYE. 

I also had the chance to visit Salzburg, which had been a highlight of the NEYE tour. In this place where Mozart was born, lived, and worked, music seemed to seep from every stone’s crevice. 

The orchestra had had the honor of opening the famous international music festival in the gorgeous Salzburg Dom. Walking through those doors, glancing up at the five organs and beautiful art all around, it was like I could see us all again, performing under the Kappelmeister who held Mozart’s old job. Dr. Virginia-Gene Rittenhouse, our late director, would be bobbing around to make sure we were all in our places and letting us know if any of us were off pitch. The younger faces of all the people I know and love and call family kept appearing before my eyes, and nostalgia swept over me. 

   
 The Fortress was the other must see site of the city, one that I had failed to appreciate fully the last time I had come. Being in poor physical shape is never fun, but especially when it keeps you from enjoying memorable experiences. Also, I had chosen to rest instead of climbing to the top because I didn’t want to exert myself too much, as I was expecting to perform later that evening. I didn’t perform and ended up having missed out on the amazing view – and it was time to rectify the latter. 

  
With a little encouragement from my friend, I was able to make it all the way to the top of the Fortress and my, Salzburg is beautiful from above. 

It was amazing to remember the good times once had, but it was even more amazing to think of all the memories I was making now. 

On this short trip, I also had the chance to: meet and play with a giant 6 month old Great Dane puppy, walk through the overgrown forests and fields of the countryside, ride a motorcycle (essentially for the first time), see the Inn river, practiced my improvisation skills, explore places in the Dom and the Fortress I had not seen before, attended a fail jazz concert (but we had fun anyways), and had some long, awesome conversations with a good friend. The only thing I could have asked for more of was time.      

Let’s just hope it won’t be another six years before I return. There are too many memories waiting to be made. 

-Wandering Minstrelette

(Pictures to be added later)

Deutsche Orchestervereinigung (German Orchestra Union)

Some may have been wondering what I’m doing in Berlin. Despite the pictures and stories so far, it’s not simply a pleasure trip of exploring the city and neighboring countries – surprise! I’m actually here to work.

I may have mentioned sometime back that I am studying Arts Management at George Mason University. Part of the program requirements are that I have to fulfill a certain amount of hours participating in internships. There are many ways that those hours can be accomplished, but with my love for travel and desire to one day move overseas, I decided to maximize on the requirements and complete my internship hours abroad. If you remember my blog posts from last summer, I was in Niterói/Rio de Janeiro, Brazil for an internship (check out some of those stories here and here). There were still some credits I needed to complete and thus was born the idea to come to Europe. And boy, is it a different world from the US.

You see, in Germany, culture and the arts is viewed as an inherent part of its citizens’ identities. Thus, there is a strong point of view that permeates the nations arts and culture policies – the government should be responsible for supporting and promoting that which makes Germany German. Therefore, the vast majority of arts and culture organizations gain their primary funding from government sources, but not the federal government.

As a result of the two World Wars, there is a fair amount of distrust in the national level of government. The authority and responsibility, then, to disperse funds to arts organizations belongs to the state and local governments. In fact, when breaking how much level of government contributes, one can see that arts organizations tend to receive the greatest amount of their contributed funds from the local level of government (numbers are roughly: local-45%, state-43%, and federal-12%). This is beneficial in many ways, and lower levels of government would be more aware of the needs of a particular region and would have better knowledge of what to support and how. However, it’s not uncommon for some of these funders to feel overwhelmed or like they could use the money elsewhere.

Enter the DOV.

The Deutsche Orchestervereinigung (roughly translating into the German Orchestra Union), is a labor union that advocates and lobbies for the rights of orchestras and their musicians around the country. They work primarily with publicly (government) funded opera and symphony orchestras, although they also work with publicly funded chamber ensemble and radio orchestras/choirs. They act as the voice of the people in orchestras to orchestra management and funding government agents.

DOV Logo

When government officials threaten to shut down or merge groups in an effort to save money, the lawyers of the DOV come to remind them of the great cultural value these groups have to the region and the nation. These efforts were started in earnest especially after a study showed a 33% decline of publicly funded opera, concert, and radio orchestras from 1992 to 2010. Groups either have to seek ways to gain private funding (as arts organizations do in the US) or close their doors. The DOV’s position is that this is not good stewardship of these important cultural heritage. Remember, in Germany culture should be supported by the government. They have won many cases over the past several years and have dramatically slowed the decline of publicly funded orchestras around the nation. They were even responsible for helping the orchestral landscape of Germany to be recognized by the national chapter of UNESCO as an intangible heritage site this past fall and hope to achieve international status in the near future.

View of the Bamberg Symphony Orchestra in the congress hall in Bamberg (Bavaria), Germany. Photo from http://www.germany.info.
View of the Bamberg Symphony Orchestra in the congress hall in Bamberg (Bavaria), Germany. Photo from http://www.germany.info.

The new major battle they are now facing, however, is the potential trade agreement between the US and the European Union know as the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP). Essentially, this pact would create the world’s largest free market sector between the world’s two greatest economic superpowers. ‘Barriers’ to imports and exports would be removed in order to increase commerce and standards of things such as health care, food, and energy use would most likely have to be leveled (meaning, they will end up being lowered rather than raised…).

This agreement could mean disaster for European cultures because, like Germany, the majority of EU member nation’s view culture as a government responsibility while the US is very much against that idea and chooses instead to have arts and culture funded by private donors and regulated by the free market. There is great fear that much of what is currently available to audiences would not be able to survive or be as easily accessible to the public if Germany had to put it’s arts sector on the open market.

Photo from http://www.wwf-jugend.de
Photo from http://www.wwf-jugend.de

Overall, TTIP doesn’t sound like a good idea for either party, no matter the side of the Atlantic. There’s a lot more to this idea and debate and I would encourage you to take some time to read about it and make your opinion known. Click here and here to learn more.

I’ve already learned so much from my time at the DOV about policy and international relations, as well as national support and promotion of the arts. I’m looking forward to what the weeks ahead have in store.

If you want to learn more about other things that the DOV is a part of or does, please check out their website which is mostly in German, but does have some English (part of my job is to expand on this).

So now you know – I’m not just here for fun. 🙂 I’ll be sure to write another update about the DOV or my wanderings soon.

Until then – bis später!

-Wandering Minstrelette

Sacramento Region Performing Arts Alliance

I apologize for the lack of posting. School has certainly taken over my time. That being said, I figured I would share one of my school assignment, please let me know you think! Also, if there are any questions about references, please feel free to contact me.

There have been several non-profit organizations across the United States that have had a major difficulty regaining their footing after the economic recession of 2008; arts organizations in particular have struggled with recouping funds that would stabilize their activities and increase chances of survival. Over the years since the recession, many arts organizations have slowly built themselves back to their previous solvency and the future, while not worry free, looks hopeful. In Sacramento, California, however, two major performing arts companies only continue to struggle for a solution of how to keep their heads above water.

In early 2013, a merger between the Sacramento Opera and the Sacramento Philharmonic Orchestra was proposed in an effort to “cope with a challenging financial environment.”  Despite a steady and reliable flow of tickets sales, both organizations had been on the verge of closing. The orchestra, unable to achieve its fundraising goals in the 2011-2012 season, “made an appeal to the community for emergency funds to deal with a $150,000 budget shortfall.”  It seemed that the only option for survival for these medium-sized organizations was to combine their forces. In July 2013 a new entity, known as the Sacramento Region Performing Arts Alliance, was formed as an umbrella organization that allowed the opera and orchestra to retain their own identities while creating a means to foster more funds for the hurting arts organizations.

Recent behaviors since the merger and creation of the Sacramento Region Performing Arts Alliance have proven that they are living, in a way, from “paycheck to paycheck.” While in most cases unity does strengthen parties, it seems as if these organizations are two drowning swimmers trying to save each other when they have no means of being able to save themselves; both organizations could see the immediate symptoms, but not the underlying problems that are responsible for their situation.

Unrelenting financial struggles continue to permeate the thoughts of the Alliance’s leadership. Programs and seasons have been chiseled away at in hopes of saving money, in vain. The opera was about to appeal for a forgivable loan from the city in January of 2014 in order to fund their production of “Il Trovatore,” but were saved by the Joyce and Jim Teel Family Foundation who donated $500,000; the majority of the funds were used on the production.  To make the situation seem even direr, the combined budget for the opera and orchestra prior to the merger totaled to more than $2 million, but as of August 2014 the alliance only has about $131,000 in the bank for the entire 2014-2015 season.

It seems that the struggles over the past several years have only been enhanced by the lack of consistent executive leadership, most recently noted by the surprise departure of Robert Tannenbaum, an experienced executive director who had worked with European arts organizations for years,  after only about a year of service to the SRPAA. It was hoped that Tannenbaum would have helped created the master plan to lift the alliance from the miry clay, but apparently he was not up to handling the many financial holes and bickering board members of the organizations  and has moved to southern California where he is hoping to find work that “allows him to work directly with the arts and requires less day-to-day management.”

Board management has not been a reliable as one could hope for either. When the organizations melded together into one alliance, so did the board of directors.   With the mixture of personalities and wide-ranging networks, it was hoped that this merger would be a great benefit to the financial needs of the Alliance. The desired fundraising forces of such a union did not come to fruition, especially when it came to the realization that many of one organization’s audience members had no desire in financially supporting the other art form. Donors, unsure of what giving to the Alliance would mean for their funds, withheld giving which frustrated the efforts of the board in reaching their required goals. Besides difficulties with individual giving, the board has also been experiencing major frustration in the lack of corporate philanthropy coming from the city of Sacramento, an issue enhanced by the increased competition by other nonprofits for the small amount of funds being made available.  An additional issue that has added to the board’s frustration with the city is the still unresolved debate of whether to renovate and update the Community Center Theater, which houses the Sacramento Opera and Philharmonic Orchestra, or to initiate a capital campaign to create an entirely new and improved venue. Instead of making a decision, the city has chosen to focus its financial support on other arts organizations that are not necessarily municipal entities.

Jane Hill, interim executive director of the Philharmonic during the 2012-2013 season prior to the merger, viewed the orchestra’s financial troubles as a reflection of the value with which the city held the organization. “I don’t know if there is enough sentiment in the region that says we’re the state capital and we ought to have a professional orchestra here,” said Hill.  Sacramento, while being a rather wealthy city has developed a reputation for being a somewhat difficult region for receiving philanthropy, especially since the recession. “When you look at the skyline in Sacramento and then look at Modesto or Fresno’s, you begin to wonder, ‘What’s going on in Sacramento?’ ” [Larry] Gardner [president of American Federation of Musicians Local 12] said. “It sure looks like there is money in Sacramento, but it doesn’t seem to be going to the orchestra or opera company.”

With these numerous factors at play, it is apparent that the board needs to seriously reevaluate its leadership, fundraising strategies at both the individual and corporate level, and the organizations’ community relations. In a desperate move, SRPAA board president Laurie Nelson announced in early August that, “The fall season, at this time, appears to be off the table.”  Nelson decided that the best action to take was to establish a hiatus from production in which board members would spend an indefinite amount of time performing research to discover methods and create a viable plan of action as well as reaching out to the community in order to create a strong foundation on which the Alliance can build for the future. They hope to produce a plan of action in three months time, including whether or not performances will resume in the spring 2015 season.

Although cutting programs and entire seasons from an arts organization’s schedule is normally frowned upon, the situation of the Sacramento Region Performing Arts Alliance seems to be a unique case in which taking a hiatus is truly the best option. By removing the distractions of day to day trials and focusing the leadership of the organization solely on the foundation and survival of the companies, the SRPAA will be able to give the Sacramento Opera and Philharmonic Orchestra a fighting chance. The success of the hiatus, according to Nelson, depends on two factors: “whether new board members can be brought on, and to what extent it is established that the community wants to support the orchestra and opera company.”

Other members of the organization also support the decision to take a hiatus from normal production activities. Michael Morgan, music director of the Philharmonic, told Music News, “I think stopping now to reassess is exactly the right thing to do, rather than leave ticket holders and musicians in the lurch by promising something and then not delivering. I just hope this garners enough attention, while the organization is still viable, for a course correction.”

The struggle to be valued by the city of Sacramento and then finding sources of funds to reestablish the Alliance and its sub-organizations will most likely be a long and arduous journey for all involved. However, several members seem optimistic for the future and look forward to a stable, municipally run arts center.

A turn in events already seems to be taking place since the announcement of the hiatus. An unexpected windfall, a donation of $387,462, was made to the Sacramento Philharmonic Foundation, the funding and endowment managing body of the orchestra, in early September of 2014 by a former U.S. Forest Service worker.  The funds will not be shared with the Sacramento Region Performing Arts Alliance, but will hopefully be used to replenish the orchestra’s majorly depleted endowment, perhaps allowing them to return to the stage for the spring 2015 season.

After the years of struggling for survival, a step or two back from the playing field is the only logical decision to give the Sacramento Region Performing Arts Alliance a fighting chance at recovery. There are donors, as mentioned above, who want to support an arts organization they know and love; it is the Alliance’s responsibility to find and befriend these individuals. In this matter of sink or swim, it is hopeful that the Alliance will finally learn to swim. If the Alliance’s hiatus proves beneficial and the board of directors is able to fully regain the community’s awareness, relationship, value, and support, than there is little doubt that the Sacramento Opera and Philharmonic Orchestra will be able to not only continue functioning but to thrive.

-Wandering Minstrelette

PianoForte Symphony Orchestra 2014

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For the past week I have been in Southern California participating in rehearsals for the 2014 performance of the PianoForte Symphony Orchestra, a “festival” orchestra created by my best friend Michael several years ago. Developed from a dream to accompany four piano playing friends, this orchestra has become a biannual event that involves musicians from both US coasts pulling together a program of high level repertoire in a little over a week.

This year (my third), we are performing works by Sibelius, Copland, and Mendelssohn. We just had our last rehearsal tonight and are looking forward to an amazing concert tomorrow evening!

For anyone interested in seeing our concert August 16 at 5pm PST, you can find the live streaming here: http://www.lluc.org/article/40/media/worship-live. Be sure to adapt the time according to the time zone you live in.

If anyone is in the area, come see the concert live at the Loma Linda University Church.

Hope you can all enjoy!

-Wandering Minstrelette