Winging Up and Up

On March 9th, my mother Dorothy (Dodie) Hogstad passed away at the age of 59. Less than six weeks had elapsed from her cancer diagnosis to her death. Her dad had died a little over seven months previous.

My mother and I, August 1995

My mother and me, late August 1995

We are overwhelmed and humbled by the fundraiser my friends and readers set up to help the family with the many expenses associated with her passage, and I simply do not know what to say besides: thank you.

Thank you.

After Stephen Colbert’s beloved mom Lorna Colbert passed away, he did a segment on The Report in tribute to her. So much of what he said applies to my own relationship with my mother. You can watch the whole thing here, but here are some excerpts:

I’ve been away from the Report for a week because one week ago today my mother, Lorna Tuck Colbert, died. And I want to thank everybody who offered their thoughts and prayers. Now if you watch this show, and you like this show, that’s because of everybody who works here, and I’m lucky to be one of them. But when you watch the show, if you also like me, that’s because of my mom.

She made a very loving home for us… Hugs never needed a reason in her house. Singing and dancing were encouraged, except at the dinner table…

She was fun.

She knew more than her share of tragedy… But her love for her family and her faith in God somehow gave her the strength not only to go on, but to love life without bitterness, and to instill in all of us a gratitude for every day we had together…

We were the light of her life and she let us know it til the end.

And that’s it. Thank you for listening. Now we can get to the truly important work of television broadcasting, which is what she would want me to do. When I was leaving her last week, I leaned over and I said, “Mom, I’m going back to New York to do the show.” And she said, “I wouldn’t miss it for the world.”

So. [deep breath]

With that in mind, this is the Colbert Report.

And this is Song of the Lark.

So. Once I settle our affairs, and the time is right, and the finances work out, I will be moving from Eau Claire and starting a new life in Minnesota. Her rebirth into death will ultimately bring a rebirth to the blog, to my work, to my education, to my passion for great orchestral music. There is no more beautiful final gift she could have given.

Thankfully, her presence is enveloping. I dearly hope that her legacy of love and love of beauty and love of hilarious snark can somehow live on in me. And thankfully, music heals. I’ll be at Orchestra Hall a lot this spring, so I anticipate a lot of healing. I look forward to being the best I can possibly be, and to making you – and her – proud. Keep an eye on this space.

In lieu of a funeral I am in the early stages of planning a celebration of her life to take place sometime this year: a fabulous chamber music concert with Minnesota Orchestra musicians as guest artists. I will keep the community posted when I know more.

A few adapted lines of George Meredith’s poem The Lark Ascending:

For singing till her heaven fills, / Tis love of earth that she instils, / And ever winging up and up, / Our valley is her golden cup, / And she the wine which overflows / To lift us with her as she goes…

The sunset that appeared a few hours after Mom slipped away.

The sunset that appeared a few hours after Mom slipped away

With much gratitude – Emily

***

8 Comments

Filed under My Writing

Semi-Hiatus

Some of you have probably noticed that I’ve been absent from the blog lately, and it took a while for me to find the strength to explain why.

In late January, my mother was diagnosed with an aggressive cancer of unknown origin. I’ve left my home to care for her, and nowadays am living out of a cramped spare bedroom in rural Wisconsin. The future is a total question mark.

For those of you keeping track at home, in six months to the day, that’s the death of my grandfather, the death of my sweet Sheltie, and a cancer diagnosis for my mom. So either some very good news is just around the corner, or late last summer someone invested in a voodoo doll with my face on it.

We intend to fight the cancer with everything we have. The women in my family are well-known for their persistence in the face of long odds. But fighting with everything I have on behalf of my mother means that the blog is simply not a major priority right now. I’ll write when it feels like a respite, but not when it feels like a responsibility. How often that will be, and for how long…well, your guess is as good as mine. I’m trying to take things hour by hour at this point.

This isn’t an adventure I’d have embarked on willingly. But then again, neither was the Minnesota Orchestra lockout, and in the end, that nightmare turned into something profound and indeed even sacred. And it’s certainly no coincidence that the people who are keeping me afloat nowadays are the very same people I got to know during the lockout. A deep, deep thank you to those folks.

Okay. So. Send prayers and best wishes for peace and strength. I’ll be back, some way, somehow. Thankfully every circumstance is temporary. And I’ll still be checking in online, frequently. I just won’t be writing long-form entries as often as I’d like. Stay in touch using Twitter and Facebook. I’ve found I like to check those while traveling to hospitals and wasting time in waiting rooms.

To close, because I don’t have the time or the energy to write a separate entry on the subject… I wanted to say that I could not be more excited for the Minnesota Orchestra’s new chapter. Securing the talents of Erin Keefe for the foreseeable future? A Sibelius concert at Carnegie in 2016? Becoming the first American orchestra to perform in Cuba in the Obama era? Well, holy [expletive], guys. I hope you patrons know what you’ve done. These astonishing developments could not have happened without you. When Alex Ross is sent into ecstasies March after next – when the newspaper articles about the historic Cuba concerts are written – when the eyes of the entire world turn to Minneapolis to appreciate the contributions our orchestra makes to international cultural life – remember: that was you who did that. Miracles happen when people work together. That’s a lesson I’ll try my best to hold close to my heart in the weeks and months to come.

Like I said, stay in touch. I can’t take this journey by myself.

Outside my new - temporary - home.

Outside in a gorgeous winter sunset

***

44 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized

Nine Symphonies

Earlier today I posted CK Dexter Haven‘s nerdy symphony challenge on Facebook. I wasn’t going to share my list publicly because my tastes feel so prosaic they didn’t seem worth writing about. (Plus, I know a lot more violin repertoire than I do symphonies.) But then Scott Chamberlain called me out in this entry and gah; hey, look what I wrote this evening.

If there ever was a time and place on the Internet for orch dorks to completely out-nerd each other, Here It Is: your chance to show off your music knowledge feathers like a displaying wild turkey.

Us

Us

The rules as stated by CK Dexter Haven:

If you had to pick nine symphonies — no more, no less — by different composers to include as part of a proverbial desert island survival kit, what would they be?  I asked myself this question just for grins over the recent Christmas & New Year’s break…

  • You can only pick one symphony per composer
  • You must choose numbered symphonies 1 through 9 only.  No Symphonie fantastique, Symphony of Psalms, Symphonic Dances, etc.
  • Once you choose a numbered symphony, you cannot choose another similarly numbered symphony by a different composer (i.e. no choosing both Beethoven’s 7th and Sibelius 7th).

So yeah. Here are my picks. What are yours? You don’t need to explain why, unless you want to. Just throw a list in the comments.

***

Continue reading

28 Comments

Filed under Lists

Review: Mozart in the Jungle, Pilot

[Lots of discussion about sex follows, accompanied by screenshots. You’ve been warned! ~ E.]

***

Like many other people with an interest in classical music, I’ve often dreamed of writing an Emmy-winning TV show about an orchestra. This desire only intensified during the Minnesota Orchestra lockout as I watched increasingly crazy plot twists unfold in real life. Secret alliances, conflict between titans of industry, late night phone calls, political turmoil, a music director putting it all on the line for Art, deficits, even more deficits…and some unexpected romance. It’s like Downton Abbey but real. We’ve even got the tuxes.

Someone, however, got the idea of “orchestra TV show” before I did. Mozart in the Jungle is a new web series from Amazon which centers on the lives of the musicians of the New York Symphony and all the hot sex and drugs they get into. The pilot is available for free, and given the…intriguing reactions of various musicians to it, I thought I’d write up a blow-by-blow for those who don’t have the time to watch the show but do have the time to read 2000 words poking fun at it.

The first shot is of a tongue and an oboe accompanied by our protagonist saying: “It’s slightly easier with the lips wet.” Get it? Because classical music is so full of SEXXX! SEX EVERYWHERE! SEX!

Continue reading

11 Comments

Filed under Reviews

Farewell to 2014

Well that was quite the year.

***

In the tradition of years past, here’s a New Year’s summary of what all happened at this address over the past twelve months.

Here are the year’s most popular entries in reverse order. Spoiler alert: it was an Atlantapalooza!

5. Doug Hertz Takes On The Crazy People. 4 October. Woodruff Arts Center board chair Doug Hertz gave the strangest interview of the year to the Atlanta Journal Constitution, where he called his musicians “crazy” and suggested that his music director could help the negotiations with “ideas.”

4. Stanley Romanstein’s Massive Bonuses: 2012 Lockout Edition! 18 September. Former Atlanta Symphony CEO Stanley Romanstein raked in $45k in bonuses during the first musician lockout in 2012, and people were pissed.

3. Naked Nymphs and the Atlanta Symphony. 3 October. Arguably the weirdest entry of the year, in which I took a wide-eyed look at the Atlanta Symphony’s bewildering 2014-15 season brochure, which boasted massive naked ladies and lots of strategically flung red scarves.

2. Stanley Romanstein’s Massive Bonuses. 8 September. The #2 entry in 2013 was Michael Henson’s Massive Bonuses, so it’s only fair that the companion piece “Stanley Romanstein’s Massive Bonuses” received the #2 slot in 2014.

And the most popular entry…

1. The Atlanta Symphony Facebook Page Loses It. 11 September. It’s not often that you get to watch a major American orchestra throw a temper tantrum on their Facebook page, but 2014 was a truly special year. It also included my favorite reaction GIF of 2014.

tumblr_mywhx2ztBn1qi86x2o1_250

***

I spent a lot of time in the early part of 2014 volunteering for Save Our Symphony Minnesota. (As you can imagine, during the Henson / Osmo showdown and resulting administrative churn, there were a lot of things that community members needed to do to make their voices heard.) Mainly because of all that volunteer work, and also because of some sad losses in my personal life, there were only 41 entries in 2014, as opposed to 97 in 2013, and traffic declined by 36%. In other news, readers visited from 155 countries this year, as opposed to 149 last year.

***

As for personal favorites…

Favorite Blog: Scott Chamberlain had some great entries at Mask of the Flower Prince. He was extraordinarily prolific this year, and he provided lots of food for thought about the Met Opera negotiations in particular. Scott’s now president of the Minnesota Chorale board, so that’s cool.

Favorite Microreview: the November 14 concert

Favorite Ousted CEO in the Non-Profit World: Impossible to choose

Favorite Non-Ousted CEO in the Non-Profit World: Kevin Smith.

Favorite Interview: Actually, my only interview…a chat with Emily Green, founder of Young Musicians of Minnesota

Favorite Essay / Favorite Concert / Favorite Life Experience: the Sibelius 1 and 4 concert in March. It will never be repeated. It will never be surpassed. My essay about that concert is here.

***

And in case you missed it first time around, here’s the 2014 SOTL Advent calendar, which surveys the year and includes 24 wintry-themed music videos. If you haven’t stopped by yet, and you enjoy that kind of shameless nostalgia, be sure to check it out!

2015 will be a crucial year for the Minnesota Orchestra. I hope you’re ready to donate, to support, to brag, and most importantly, to buy tickets! The possibilities are truly endless, but first we all need to step up to the plate together.

And I’m sure you will. You always have, because you’re the best. Catch you in 2015.

Some notes I'm working on

Some doodles I’m working on

***

 

6 Comments

Filed under My Writing

Cost Disease Confusion: Part 2

Here’s the riveting conclusion of a two part essay examining Duncan M. Webb’s Baumol’s Cost Disease Is Killing Me. To read part one, click here.

***

A wise man asked me a great question:

Why now? If this problem has been around forever and has even had a name since 1965, why is it suddenly something we absolutely positively have to deal with today?

My answer is that there is now a convergence of challenges (you can call it a perfect storm if you’d like) that make Baumol’s Cost Disease that much more toxic – namely, declining audiences for classical music (see the 2012 Survey of Public Participation in the Arts)…

Let’s start there. I’m guessing that link is a cue to look at the 2012 Survey of Public Participation in the Arts. Here’s the PDF. So let me scroll down and check out what’s said about classical music attendance…

(By the way, what is classical music? Professional orchestral concerts? Amateur orchestral concerts? Chamber music? Recitals? And what might the regional variation be in these numbers? And why has my head suddenly started hurting?)

Continue reading

2 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized

Cost Disease Confusion: Part 1

Ever since the Minnesota Orchestra lockout began, I’ve read a lot of articles on arts administration. (And from a unique perspective, too: not as a board member or an employee or a union shill, but as a concerned audience member.) Once in a while I’ll disagree with a particular point, debate it with friends, and then tuck the insights away.

But. Last month I read an article that made me say “wait a minute…” so many times, I knew it could be used as bloggy fodder and discussion. It’s called Baumol’s Cost Disease Is Killing Me, and it was written by management consultant Duncan M. Webb. I feel very strongly that post-Minnesota, people who are still talking about Baumol’s Cost Disease in the way that Webb does are doing themselves and the institutions they advise a disservice. So I thought I’d take the chance to think out loud about some of the points he raises…from an audience member’s point of view.

Webb’s entry begins:

I first read Baumol and Bowen’s The Economic Dilemma of the Performing Arts some 20 years ago, almost 30 years after it was first published in 1965. The theory was fairly straightforward: the problem in our sector is that because there are no productivity gains associated with the creation of the work (it takes the same time and energy to rehearse and perform a Brahm’s Requiem today as it did when first performed in 1868), and because costs always increase over time and earned revenue growth is limited by a range of market forces, we are doomed to fall further and further behind, essentially forcing the more aggressive pursuit of contributed income just to balance the budget. And the problem is progressive, meaning that every year we fall a little bit further behind. This phenomenon has come to be known as Baumol’s Cost Disease.

Let’s start at sentence number two. It takes the same time and energy to rehearse “a Brahm’s Requiem” now as it did in 1868?

Continue reading

4 Comments

Filed under My Writing

Musicovation Guest Blog

This week I partnered with the music website Musicovation (their tagline?: “the positive news about music, for a change“) to write a guest-blog entry. For my topic I chose the relationship between amateur and professional musicians: two great tastes that taste great together.

The piece begins:

Thursday night rehearsal. I’m in a small room with twenty other string players, members of my local amateur string orchestra. I’m rehearsing a solo of the Piazzolla Oblivion. I shake my wrist out. I’ve got jitters for no reason at all.

 ***

 Adult amateur musicians are almost universally embarrassed to play in front of other people. An adult who has just come to classical violin (or just returned to it) will invariably apologize for how they sound. Self-deprecating jokes – with an edge of desperation – proliferate. The violinist.com discussion board regularly features entries from adult amateurs asking questions like: I’m the only adult at my teacher’s recital, should I even participate?

I can relate. If I’m ever complimented on my playing, I’ll smile graciously, but in the back of my head I’ll invariably think: honey, go to Minneapolis, watch a program of their Sibelius, and get back to me on how good you think I am.

Why?

Read more here.

Thanks to the Musicovation team and especially Zachary Preucil for the opportunity. Definitely check out the website while you’re there, and follow their Facebook page and Twitter account! We can never have too many positive stories about music!

***

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

2014 Advent Calendar

Hey guys, it’s that time of year again:

Advent Calendar Time!

The blog has a long and proud tradition (and by “long and proud tradition,” I mean “a tradition that began on Tumblr in December 2012″) of Advent-calendar-making.

So I threw another together this year, just because it’s fun. Every day from now until December 24, a new entry will be posted at the calendar. This year features a variety of my favorite wintry musical selections (some of which were chosen by readers!), as well as various memories from the past year. A new entry goes up every morning at 6AM. I hope you enjoy the pieces and maybe find a performance or two that is new to you. So be sure to bookmark the calendar and keep coming back throughout December: sotladventcalendar.tumblr.com.

My attempt to make the world's most annoying holiday SOTL Blingee ever. Animated Christmas cats, guys!

My attempt to make the most annoying holiday SOTL Blingee ever. Animated Christmas cats, guys! AWW!

And since I’m using the same Tumblr account that I used last year, you can even scroll back to read 2013’s calendar. Can you CONTAIN your EXCITEMENT?

Also one more tip: the Minnesota Orchestra has a Cyber Monday sale going, and most 2015 tickets are 50% off, so you might want to check that out. Even if you have all the seats you need for this season, tickets are a great gift idea.

If the thought of the holidays or holiday music makes you want to strangle kittens, stay tuned, because there’s a lot more non-holiday content coming. I actually think this December might be my content-heaviest month of 2o14… Right now I’m sitting on a whole clutch of rough drafts.

~Emily

who is apparently an elf now

and a hen

***

Leave a comment

Filed under My Writing

Thanksgiving!

I don’t usually post anything on Thanksgiving (I’m more into Advent calendars, to be honest), but this year has been a special one, and I think it’s worthy of a word or two of gratitude.

First off, I’m grateful for my readers. You guys are so inquisitive, so smart, and you care so deeply.

I’m grateful for the knowledge of teachers, and how generous the best are with their very selves.

I’m grateful for technology. I’m grateful I can write and publish long essays on Rebecca Clarke or Baumol’s Cost Disease while curled up on the couch. (Keep an eye out for those.)

I’m grateful that sarcasm is a thing.

I’m grateful for sound, and especially the layers of it I hear in Orchestra Hall. You can spend a lifetime in that sound and never tire of it.

I’m grateful to live in a place that values, treasures, and loves its symphony orchestra so intensely. It would have been so easy for Minnesota to give up this past year. You didn’t.

I’m grateful for those dreamers back in 1903 who said, “Let’s start a symphony orchestra,” and a community that said, “Okay!” I’m grateful to all those board members who raised so much money over so many decades, and to the musicians of the past who played on to achieve the highest levels of musicianship, despite all the economic uncertainties surrounding them.

I’m grateful for the modern-day musicians who had the courage to risk their health, their careers, their homes, to save an institution.

I’m grateful for the people I criticized so harshly during the lockout, because without them, I wouldn’t have you. Without their myriad of muck-ups, the Minnesota Orchestra would be in a much weaker position than it is today.

I’m grateful for strong, wise leadership – for Osmo, Kevin Smith, the heads of Save Our Symphony Minnesota. They’ve married professionalism with passion, and the results are deeply moving and deeply inspiring.

And most of all, I’m grateful we have the chance to begin anew, to embark on a process of self-invention. The thought of it is simultaneously terrifying and exhilarating, and also terrifying. (And exhilarating…)

The Minnesota Orchestra posted an adorable picture on their Facebook page of musicians holding up signs of gratitude. Mine isn’t nearly as wonderful, but I did just sit down at my desk, scribble my own handwritten sentiments on a notecard, and place a sprig of holiday sparkle next to it.

Happy Thanksgiving, all! And…

IMG_5542

***

4 Comments

Filed under My Writing