Instant fame: the 5 Browns piano quintet

Twitter delivered the shocking news of the 5 Browns piano quintet


Twitter is magic for news hungry readers of the latest and the greatest, the free, and the last-minute. Twitter has been magic to confirm someone’s death and the lack of information until articles are published and investigations done. Twitter has been magic for last minute offers or about-to-be sold out concerts.

Today Twitter delivered a shocking piece of news in the classical music world.

The amazing five siblings called the Five Browns, born in Houston and home-schooled in Utah, are virtuoso pianists all trained at Julliard. Their father Mr. Brown confessed to sexually abusing his children and, according to the latest sources, will face 10 years in jail.

Just 10 years?

The Browns’ official website is down due to traffic overload. There are several Facebook pages.

Twitter is capable of delivering shocking news. Bad news travels faster than good, unfortunately. As a pianist, I am shocked and very sad.

Visit youtube (below) to find more clips of this amazing quintet – playing multi-hand piano duets — on 5 pianos!

Speed to market: how fast to get a gig?

How long does it take to get a concert? If you find the right person, it could be immediate. If you persist and if you have the right contacts … you can also get a full house if you’re not careful!

Musicians who can sightread, improvise, or have memorised works they can readily perform don’t need a lead time to prepare for a concert performance.  Yet concert engagements don’t happen overnight. There is a certain lead time to book a concert and a lead time to get the audience.

I interviewed a classical music aficionado last Friday about his house concert series as material to add to my ongoing research on house concerts and salon concerts. Towards the end of our phone conversation, I mentioned that classical guitarist Robert Bekkers was going to be in town. Would he care to organise a concert in his home?

His first reaction was very positive. Yes! He would love to. When I told him the date, he withdrew and said he could not manage to organise his schedule and home to make it happen. He would prefer a month to 6 weeks notice.

Indeed, if you have to turn your home into a concert venue, you do need time to clear up and clean up. If you have a full-time job, you do need to make space to organise a concert event in your free time.

Undeterred, I googled to find other candidates.

That Friday 11th February 2011, I e-mailed a non-profit organisation that had put on such intimate classical music concerts for raising funds for the cause they’re championing.

Before I went to bed, I noticed I had received an e-mail reply.

The very next morning, I was woken up by a call from the lady in charge. We spoke for over 40 minutes about the possibilities of collaborating. I told her that I was the gateway to some of the best musicians on the planet.

On Sunday, I sent her links and material she could use to convince the new board members about doing a concert.

On Monday, she had her board meeting.

On Tuesday, she e-mailed me to ask if the Mr Bekkers was available the following Wednesday to give a concert. She would get her real estate advisory council to find a suitable location.

On Wednesday, I replied that indeed he was available and happy to give a concert.

In less than 12 hours, she and the chairman of her real estate advisory council had not only found a venue but also managed to get half the tickets sold.

How’s that for speed to market? If everything is in place, a gig can happen overnight.

Robert Bekkers gives a solo concert in Phoenix, Arizona on Wednesday 23rd February 2011 at 7 pm.

Twitter for musicians

Twitter is more than a broadcasting medium though many musicians may think so. Here is a journey from experimentation to practical implementation to discover just what Twitter does and can do.

When I got alerted to Brian Reinhart’s article “Music and Twitter” via twitter, I just had to tweet back that I intended to write a blog about it.

Not that I’ve become an expert at Twitter after over a year of tweeting — I joined the Twitter community like I did with Facebook and LinkedIn because I was curious and that I thought everyone else was doing it. The “kiasoo” nature in me pushed me to get a free Twitter account. Kiasoo means afraid to lose out in the Chinese Hokkien dialect.

I decided to follow those that I knew had a Twitter account. I tweeted this blog and everything else I thought was interesting. When others started following me, I reciprocated. It was flattering to get followers. After awhile, I couldn’t keep up. I no longer reciprocated.

I did not know the rules of Twitter, only that I wanted to make sure the number of people following me were more than the number I followed. In other words, I was still a performer — I wanted more people in the audience than on stage. I wanted to blast out my latest thoughts, concert reviews, future concerts, video clips, audio clips, and everything else that musicians use to get attention.

I thought of Twitter as a kind of broadcasting medium, the same way I initially thought of Facebook and blogging and websites.

Twitter is more than that.

When I started tweeting for Price Rubin & Partners, I noticed that tweeting was no longer a game or a personal experiment. There had to be a rhyme and reason to spending time online dreaming up messages and truncating them to the 140 character limit.

When tweeting on behalf of an organization, you are communicating the values of the group — not just yourself. You cannot be whimsical and say something as personal as “I had to pay an overdue fine for library books I didn’t get to read.”

I asked myself the following questions:

  • What is the purpose of having a Twitter account?
  • What is there to gain from the Twitter community?
  • What information do I want to know that I can’t get elsewhere?
  • What do I want to see when I sign in my Twitter account?
  • What kind of attention do I want to attract?
  • What kind of followers do I want to have?
  • What kind of messages should I send to attract those followers?
  • How often should I tweet — without the risk of being “unfollowed”?

In two weeks, I doubled the number of followers. The number that I’m following now is more than 6 times the number that’s following me. But this is not a numbers game.

It’s about relevance.

I want to deliver relevant content in a timely matter. And when I check my Twitter radar screen, I want to see my own “newspaper” of news, gossip, reviews, interviews, opportunities, etc from orchestras, opera companies, classical radio stations, performance art series, artists with interesting opinions, etc. If I see anything I’d like to share, I’ll retweet it.

I should think other Twitterers are doing the same. Maybe not. Maybe they are like me a year ago, still getting their egos rubbed and tweeting into a void of noise.

Useful advice and tips for musicians on how to use Twitter:

Any other good tips? Please LEAVE A REPLY on the comment section alone. Thanks in advance.

Music for learning foreign languages, art for spatial intelligence

Why cutting arts education funding is detrimental in the long run

Through twitter, I found a blog that embedded the following video clip that spells out why we must not continue to cut funding to arts education. They are essential for creativity and for our capacity as human beings and not mere data processors.

It also explains why the musician friends I know are multi-lingual. Pick up a musical instrument when you’re young and open your world to a tonal propensity for foreign languages. Take art classes and develop your spacial intelligence.

Count down to guitar solo concert tour

Robert Bekkers, guitarist, prepares his three week solo concert tour of Boston to Phoenix in February.

Five hours before Dutch guitarist Robert Bekkers boards the airplane for his trans-Pacific and coast-to-coast red-eye (overnight) flight from Maui to Boston, he finishes a hearty meal at the cafeteria of Maui College famous for its award-winning Culinary Academy. Every Monday to Thursday between 11 am and 1 pm, Paina Meals at $5 a plate are served. Today he chose the more expensive $7.90 swordfish with purple potato as a send-off meal. He knows that there will be NO complimentary meals served on Hawaiian Airlines and Delta Airlines for the long journey.

Guitarist Robert Bekkers at Maui College in Hawaii
Guitarist Robert Bekkers at Maui College in Hawaii

An e-mail from the concert host in Wells, Maine brings a reality check:

“As the day draws near, I’m praying for NO MORE SNOW! We’ve had so much with more expected, and I’m concerned about parking. There is just no more room to push the mountains of snow that have accumulated around the driveway.”

That concert of “Guitar meets Piano” will take place on Sunday 13th February, a day of travel for Robert Bekkers on the Boston T-line and the Amtrak. Before then, he will have given two house concerts in Boston. Valentine’s Day on Monday 14th February will be another day of travel, by Amtrak from Wells, Maine to Boston and then the Peter Pan coach to Manhattan.

What he brings to these concert hosts and their guests are three new CDs he produced in Maui: a solo guitar album and two live recordings of his Bekkers Piano Guitar Duo concerts in Maui and at Duke University. He hopes and expects the sale of these CDs to support this 3 week tour of Boston, Wells, Pelham, Houston, and Phoenix.

Salon concerts: another name for house concerts

What is in a name? Home concert, house concert, salon concert, huisconcert, … does it make any difference if it’s established or not? How much can you charge and still get people to attend a concert in your home?

First I used “home concerts” for live foreground music that gets performed and heard in one’s home. In Dutch, home is “huis” — pronounced like house in English. When I moved to the Netherlands, I used “huisconcerten” or “house concerts” instead of “home concerts” to promote concerts in the home.

In the USA, I noticed people using “salon concerts” — and decided to investigate this further.

When I google “salon concerts” I get what looks like an established concert series called Salon Concerts. There is a link to a nice article called “Chamber music finds its modern home.” Scrolling down, I see that the ticket price begins at $40.

How much to charge for house concerts? This is the question many hosts and performers have asked. If Salon Concerts can charge $40 and get a full house, why can’t anyone charge $40? Instead, I’ve heard reactions such as

I can’t charge my friends.

I can’t expect people to pay more than $10.

The economy is bad. People won’t come if we charge more than $10.

Let’s make it free and ask people to donate.

How much do we charge to make sure we get a full house? If we charge too much, we get empty seats.

If we change the name of house concerts to salon concerts, create a professional website, get media attention, can we then charge more than $10 per person? Maybe then, it becomes affordable to run a concert series from the home.

Download the 14-page paper presented at the International Cultural Economic conference in Copenhagen, 2011: “House concerts for art music: multiple stakeholders, audience development, and sustainability

Longevity of a composition

The longevity of a composition depends largely on the willingness of performers to study and play them. There are piano clubs and pianists eager to try multi-hand piano duets.

The alliance between composers and performers is an interesting one. Composers want their works to be performed and heard. Performers want to play pieces they like, but they don’t always get a chance to perform them for various reasons.

How often does a new piece get performed after its premiere?

Are composers satisfied that their works get performed just once?

As a composer, I would say no. I want to hear my works over and over again. I want different musicians to play them. I want to different interpretations of the same piece. I want feedback. I want my work to circulate like a virus.

As a performer, I want to play a new composition more than once. After all, it takes time to study a new piece. Unless I don’t like the piece and I’m “forced” to play it, I would say, give me another chance to play it again.

The longevity of a composition is the question at stake here. Just how long is long enough?

Through extensive search and research, our piano guitar duo has found original works for piano and guitar by obscure composers. When we play them, we realize why they are no longer performed today. They have either gone out of fashion or the acoustics made it impossible to play (on modern instruments).

Does a composer’s fame and status depend on the longevity of his/her works?

The late composer/pianist Robert Avalon, Houston (2000)
The late composer/pianist Robert Avalon, Houston (2000)

One of the reasons I wanted to ask composers to write multi-hand piano duets is that I want to introduce such pieces to pianists. I saw the joy of playing at a sight-reading piano workshop in November 2010. The pianists didn’t want to stop. Luckily I had brought enough music.

There are piano clubs where members help organise concerts and soirees. They take turns playing solo works they have been working on. They share and discuss the music they love.

Another way of sharing is to play together, such as many hands on an instrument, not one person at a time.

Like fashion, some music gets out of date. I am eager for music that has not yet been written.

So I set about writing music for many hands. How many hands can play on one piano? There’s the inside and outside of the piano. Why doesn’t anyone play there?

Contemporary music is full of interesting techniques: clusters, minimalism, chance music, polytonality, serialism, …… I haven’t seen enough of these incorporated into piano duets.

The longevity of a composition depends largely on the willingness of performers to study and play them. Composers, let’s look for musicians that are eager to try new music.