Ask Sergey Malov
APO Connecting goes international! APO Education Manager Lee Martelli is visiting orchestras in the USA, comparing and contrasting orchestral education programmes. First stop: California, and the Pasadena Symphony and Pops.
CHICAGO SYMPHONY ORCHESTRA
Last stop: Chicago, and its 20-dgree drop in temperature from Miami. The climate may be cold but I landed to find a very warm and friendly city. The 110 staff at the Chicago Symphony Orchestra (CSO) are a superb bunch of people, all dedicated to what they are doing.
Formed in 1891, the CSO is an American institution; and many of its current audience members are descendants of their orchestra’s original subscribers.
The APO has the three stands to APO Connecting (education, community and outreach), and so does the CSO: learning, training and access. The word “outreach” is about to be dropped in the USA, with the feeling that it makes people think that activities outside the main concert hall are less valuable. Also, there’s a concern it has patronising sound to it. The challenge here is everyone knows what outreach means, so the search is on for an alternative word. Some orchestras use the word “needy”, but I think that is worse. Another common term is “underserved”, but that could be confused with undeserved. Ideas, anyone?
I was lucky to see a schools education concert staged by the CSO’s civic training orchestra. Comprising musicians aged 22 to 30, this was a very high standard orchestra, presenting sixconcerts a year plus education mentoring. The presentation of the concert was very similar to our Kiwi Kapers – they certainly do get excited about Hallowe’en over here.
Sitting in on the monthly CSO marketing meeting, it was interesting to hear the exact same conversations happening on the other side of the world that we have at the APO. After this three-week trip, I have so many ideas, initiatives and strategies going around in my head, and am looking forward to returning to New Zealand to be able to discuss it all and get stuck in.
The CSO Cafeteria
I am also looking forward to seeing my young daughter and my family, whom I have been able to keep in touch with via Skype.
Pinch-me-I’m dreaming moment: a meeting with one of the CSO staff was postponed at the last minute. Just as I was about to go into their office they answered the phone. Yo Yo Ma (who happens to be the CSO’s artistic advisor) was on the line. If you have to postpone a meeting, it might as well be because of Yo Yo Ma!
MIAMI – The New World Symphony
Miami only just feels like America. The music playing in the streets and the food are very much of the Caribbean, with the Bahamas only a day trip away. With 32-degree heat in the cool months, the air conditioning of the New World Center is an oasis. What a place to start the graduate training orchestra for the USA.
Fellows in the New World Symphony (NWS) audition for a three-year tenure. Most don’t last that long because they are constantly auditioning for jobs. And that is the goal – to support musicians from their tertiary training through to professional orchestra jobs; so when they get a full time job they leave. Some don’t even make it to the NWS, instead getting a job between the time they are accepted and the time they are due to start.
Training the Fellows is very much hands-on. Fellows are involved in planning and presenting education concerts, and undertake a lot of work in schools and out in the community. It is up to each person how much education work they do, and some also work assisting in various administrative roles depending on their areas of interest.
The orchestra’s emphasis on technology is very. There are only 780 seats in the concert hall, so concerts are also projected on to the outside wall. Up to 2000 additional people can sit outside in the park and watch these ‘wallcasts’. There are four videographers on the staff, and the orchestra has just had a concert featuring dancers that interacted on the screen behind the orchestra.
SKYPE is also in every practice room. Many fellows have lessons from teachers around the world via SKYPE, and in turn give school students lessons using the same technology. The NWS has a programme whereby it is paying for SKYPE stations to be placed in Miami schools. The initiative is called Music Lab, and five schools have benefitted so far.
Pinch-me-I’m-dreaming moment: driving from the airport to my hotel with the shuttle driver telling us we were passing the island houses of Gloria Estefan and Sylvester Stallone. I guess they have to live somewhere, right?
New York was unexpected. I have travelled widely in Europe and Asia, but the scope and density of NYC was impressive. Imagine Auckland’s Queen St going 50 blocks in one direction and 20 blocks in the other. People walk with purpose, are busy and focused. Lots is achieved in this city, the home of the phrase “teaching artist”.
I was lucky to have time with four organisations here: the New York Philharmonic, Carnegie Hall, The Metropolitan Opera and the Little Orchestra. The level of support for these organisations is amazing – Carnegie Hall alone has 500 staff.
So many people who live in New York are not born there, which I guess is the same for Auckland. There are some interesting programmes that celebrate the music of different cultures in the city – I think it would be great to offer something similar in Auckland.
The training of the teaching artists in the city is a serious business. There are professional musicians who earn a full-time living from working in schools, some of them responsible for music in 14 classrooms each year. The programme structures are interesting, and I discovered plenty of ideas the APO can build on for the benefit of our partner schools.
The average New Yorker is very proud of The Met and The New York Phil. This was brought home one day when I tried to visit the Rockefeller Center in my lunch hour. Given how busy New York tourist attractions are, it was ambitious to expect to get down there, go up to the observation deck and back to the Avery Fisher Centre in an hour.
I entered the building, saw the queue and, realising I wasn’t going to get through in time, turned around and headed back out the door. The security guard came up to me and said, “Is there something the matter, Ma’am?” I explained I had a meeting at 2pm and wouldn’t make it through the queue by then.
He said, “Come with me,” took my past about 100 people up to the ticket counter told the teller I needed to be fast forwarded to the front. The man continued to take me up the stairs, past about another 100 people right to the lift, and hey presto, I am heading up to the observation deck.
Needless to say I got back to the NYP by 2pm, humbled by the value the city places on its cultural icons.
As if that weren’t enough of a pinch-me-I’m-dreaming moment of the day, I had another during my 80-block walk to Times Square. The Square is basically the middle of Broadway. There are flashing neon signs for all the shows, and grandstand seating outside just so you can look at the street. A band was performing on the roof of a clothing store, with 200 girls outside screaming so loud you could hear them for blocks.
The flight from LA to San Francisco was probably the most spectacular I have ever taken. Following the coastline, we saw desert gradually turn green before melting into the amazing harbours that form the San Francisco Bay area. Things got a bit too exciting when, just mile away, a United Airlines plane landed in tandem with us on a parallel runway. Apparently this is quite common, and immediately we touched down, two other planes took off at right angles – crazy.
San Francisco is a city of contrasts: the pier that houses the 2013 America’s Cup village and the Hard Rock Cafe; Chinatown; the North Beach Italian quarter; and dangerous downtown. Yes – this is surely the least safe I have felt on this trip. San Francisco has the most homeless people of any city in the USA.
The San Francisco Symphony (SFS) has always had a strong community and education focus. Formed in 1911 straight after the earthquake that destroyed most of the city, its first ever concert was for the rebuild workers, and the second performance was a family education concert. Since 1917, SFS has continued annual family concerts (now four per year), and celebrities such as Robin Williams, who’s a local, narrate them.
The Davies Concert Hall
Incredibly, the SFS’s education team has been together 25 years. The department formed an alliance with the SF Unified School Districts, and has a programme that takes ensembles into every primary school in San Francisco – 91 in total. The preparation the ensembles get for their school visits is exactly the same format as for the APOPS Ensembles. Our APOPS schools partnership programme currently has 50 schools involved, but it is interesting to note that the Auckland region actually has 453 primary schools – many more than San Francisco.
Pinch-me-I’m-dreaming (but this time not in a good way) moment of the day: passing a cordoned off area where there had been a shooting. Public were walking the streets like nothing unusual had happened…
I’m kind of sad to say goodbye to LA. I’ve really enjoyed the city and its people. The last of the three orchestras I visited was the LA Philharmonic. First, I visited their glorious offices in the Walt Disney Concert Hall complex. Built over 12 years with a foundation donation from Walt Disney’s widow, Lillian, the building is an architectural wonder designed by Frank Gehry.
The LA Phil is both a performer and presenter in the Walt Disney Concert Hall, and present two or three programmes every week. The education schools concerts take place over one week of the year, with one programme of repertoire taken from the main series music, adapted to suit students. The concerts are free for students to attend but schools need to apply first. Acceptance used to be on a first-come first-served basis, but to make it fairer they now take applications up to an entry date and draw the lucky winners randomly.
I had an hour with the LA Phil’s marketing manager, who talked me through the various brochures and PR/social media they undertake. It is interesting that all of the orchestras I have visited so far do not have a single brochure containing their education activities. Some orchestras amalgamate these into their main brochure, and some just have event-specific material. It is maybe an indicator of how much education activity the APO undertakes that we do need a separate brochure!
The second experience I had was at HOLA (the Heart of Los Angeles) located in La Fayette Park in LA. This is sort of like a YMCA, with drop-in facilities and sports courts. HOLA is one of the two sites for YOLA (Youth Orchestra LA), which started five years ago. The second site is just starting its third year. Designed to provide support for the children of LA who aren’t necessarily well served, YOLA is amazing.
About 400 children are currently in YOLA, and this is set to further increase with an addition of a third YOLA site in a couple of years. Most children spend more time at their YOLA sites than their homes, goiing there four days a week after school as well as Saturday mornings. They have homework study with pastoral care tutors and then 90 minutes later start their music activities with LA Phil tutors. I was stunned to see the children, who had only been playing two years, perform Eine Kleine Nachtmusik.
Once a year the LA Phil’s music director, Venezuelan El Sistema graduate Gustavo Dudamel, goes to HOLA to conduct the YOLA orchestras. I happened to be there on the very day it happened! Maestro Dudamel was humourous in his approach to the children, but also passionately focused on them playing to the highest standard. This reminded me a lot of our MD Eckehard’s equal passions for youth and excellence.
The resource investment in this programme is overwhelming. And it’s obviously having an effect. Parents I spoke to told me two remarkable things: since joining the programme their children talk a lot about the future, about what they want to be, where they want to travel, and what university they want to attend. Parents say their children’s aspirations are so far above their own at the same age.
The other thing parents say is that they’re trying to move to different areas of LA so their kids can go to schools with programmes that will help them succeed in life. The parameters for what counts as “succeeding in life” also seem to have changed.
Pinch-me-if-I’m-dreaming moment of the day: discovering the LA Phil shop! It’s completely staffed and managed by LA Phil people. The shop brings together resources about music and music education from all over the world, and is very affordable. Proceeds from sales go to supporting the LA Phil. (I contributed a little by buying an $8 book about musical cats…)
Today I journeyed South from LA to Orange County. The Pacific Symphony offices are unassuming, nestled in a business park and giving little indication of the vibrancy of the staff inside. Upon arrival I was warmly welcomed, and introduced to several Pacific Symphony musicians who had come for their first schools meeting of the year. This is an exact parallel to sessions we hold at the APO with our partnership school musicians, where we discuss the repertoire and class sessions for the year – I felt at home.
There are quite a few commonalities between the Pacific Symphony and the APO, including that we are the same age! They have a schools partnership programme with 30 schools involved, and we have one with 50 schools. Their musicians have been working in Orange County schools for 24 years, whereas our programme is just turning 10 years old. So we had much to talk about in terms of learnings and conceptual ideas.
I was particularly interested in Pacific Symphony’s research into why young people engage in orchestra education programmes, how the research had been conducted and how analysis of that data affected programme planning. I was fortunate to speak with a number of the orchestra’s staff, including Melissa Craig, Director of Youth Ensembles.
During my visit I was also lucky to sit in with the PS musicians and education staff while they talked through their 2013 schools repertoire and discussed how the pre-concert lessons for the education concerts were going to be presented in schools. The way the US federal music curriculum is evolving places emphasis on creativity, so there was a wealth of creative ideas around the table. It will be a joy to bring some of these ideas back and share them with the APO musicians for the benefit of Auckland schools.
A further piece of luck is that the PS is part of a collection of performing arts organisations that were successful in applying for a grant to undertake practical application of research released by the James Irvine Foundation. This ‘cultural participation’ research looks at how people can increase engagement with the arts, which is requiring the orchestra to formulate new plans and approaches to audience engagement.
There were so many similarities to the process the APO has been going through recently, it was a real privilege to sit across the other side of the world in a room with an external expert consultant and Pacific Symphony staff and observe them talking through the same theories, challenges and thought processes they have also undertaken.
Pinch-me-I’m-dreaming moment of the day: learning that the Pacific Symphony staff annual perk is a team building day at Disneyland. I mean, why not?
Today finishes my two-day exchange with the Pasadena Symphony and Pops. I am visiting three orchestras in my time here in California, the other two being the LA Philharmonic and the Pacific Symphony down in Orange Country.
My hotel in Downtown LA is perfectly situated, halfway between City Hall and the incredible Walt Disney Concert Hall, home of the LA Phil. I’m also just one block from the metro – my link to the Pasadena orchestra 30 minutes north by train, and the Pacific Symphony 45 minutes south.
After Los Angeles, the train to Pasadena took me into another world and, indeed, people in Pasadena hardly ever travel to LA. It means the Pasadena Symphony has barely any audience overlap with the LA Phil, and it serves the whole Pasadena region plus the neighbouring valley.
The PSO education manager, Clay Campbell, was very welcoming, and I attended a Pasadena Youth Symphony Orchestra rehearsal. The members of the 80-strong youth orchestra range in age from 10 to 14. They were energetic, engaged and showed plenty of desire to apply themselves. Because so many young people have auditioned for the PYSO, the PSO has recently created an additional string orchestra and concert band under the youth orchestra. The younger groups are learning basics of ensemble playing and working in their sections with PSO teaching artists, which prepares them well for graduating to the youth orchestra in their own time.
The upper string players were particularly capable, playing with much vibrancy and conviction. Almost all are Suzuki trained, which is interesting since we have been talking in Auckland about working with the NZ Suzuki Institute. I was lucky enough to meet Laurie Niles in Pasadena, a very capable violinist involved in Suzuki teaching, who gave me some great ideas about bringing a string ensemble together in Auckland.
My highlight in Pasadena was spending time with the orchestra’s CEO, Paul Jan Zdunek. Paul has been at the PSO for three years, and came in at quite a time of change when two orchestras (one classical and one pops) merged. I believe the current success of the PSO is due to Paul’s clear vision for the orchestra: to foster musical excellence for all people.
It was great to hear Paul’s thoughts on how education activities contribute to the whole organisation, connecting the orchestra to the community and growing the company. It is clear that new education activities are structured so they deliver on several levels. There’s a lot that can be transferred to Auckland, through developing projects that have multiple functions and outcomes.
Pinch-me-I’m-dreaming moments from my first few days:
1. Having breakfast at a cafe on the main street of Downtown LA, I see several police motorcycles coming down the road. They flank the main intersection (think corner Queen St & Wellesley St in Auckland) and stop all traffic. Down the street come flash cars, followed by vans with cameras on: a movie is being shot. It happens twice more in the next 10 minutes. No one seems surprised that rush hour traffic has just been stopped three times by moviemakers. That’s when you know you are in Hollywood.
2. Being with a group of people who all gasp in surprise when it starts raining. There hadn’t been any rain in months.
3. Seeing Pacido Domingo conduct the LA Opera in Don Giovanni. The Don G was dressed suspiciously like Zorro.
4. Being taken to lunch by the PSO to Caltech, an absolutely beautiful building that houses the lecturers who train the NASA scientists. All the people at the table next to us were Nobel Peace Prize winners. Apparently they regularly lunch there and talk theories. What an environment to work in, chandeliers and all!
Next stop: Pacific Symphony, Orange County.