Art and music improvisation: an observation and reflection

Watching an art and music improvisation session reminded me of the various collaborations I’ve had with artists in London, Utrecht, Crete, and Brugges. It’s about the process.

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As a finishing touch to my recent application for an innovation grant, I asked the Maui-based artist Mike Takemoto if he would consider having his students collaborate with mine. I was thinking along the lines of an exhibit of paintings of musicians, music instruments, or music notes. It would be an extension of the piano ensemble poster exhibit that I “curated” and organized with the photography teacher Harvey Reed and his photo and design students last spring. Such interdisciplinary collaboration raised awareness of the activities we wanted to promote.

Continue reading “Art and music improvisation: an observation and reflection”

Stepping up to yes I can

The journey from “I can’t” to “I can” starts with “I won’t” and ends with “Yes, I did it.”

When I saw the following picture on Facebook, I couldn’t resist posting a blog about its applicability to education.

From I won't do it to Yes, I did it
From I won't do it to Yes, I did it

When required to do it, many of my math students arrive the first day of class with the  attitude of  “I can’t do it.” They have to take math which is a pre-requisite. My goal is to get them to realize that they can do it.

My piano students, on the other hand, arrive with “I want to do it” written all over their faces. These are not music majors so they are not required to take piano. While a humanities elective may be required for their major, they had the freedom to choose music, art, and other subjects. Even within music, they had a choice of guitar, ukelele, choir, and other courses besides piano.

To me, it’s a matter of empowering my students to believe that they can do it. Look at all the steps from “I won’t do it” to “I can do it.” That’s a lot of convincing.

Some are born with the belief that they can do anything.

Others like my mother give the excuse that they can’t do it. What they really mean is that they don’t want to do it. Or so I tell my mom. You’re allowed to say no after a lifetime of yes.

As for me, I’m so used to wanting to do everything that I have to tell myself “don’t do it.” After stepping up to “Yes, I did it. And done that” I have to now sit on the ground floor, and say, “No, no, no! Don’t make me do it.”

Food for thought.

Piano and guitar image

A piano and guitar building structure in China – wow!

I was googling for piano and guitar when I came across the following picture. It’s a physical structure somewhere in China. I wonder where it is. I wonder if it’s a permanent structure or just a temporary exhibition. Does anybody know?

Piano and guitar building structure in China
Piano and guitar building structure in China

Challenges of marketing yourself as a musician

Marketing yourself as a musician or artist is plagued with challenges of time, perception, and tedious effort. It’s much easier to sell someone else than sell yourself. How does one overcome the catch-22 situation?

Over dinner after an afternoon of creative healing with artist Frances Ku, classical guitarist Robert Bekkers and I discussed the challenges of selling ourselves as musicians. Frances has experience selling her art on Maui.

“It’s much easier to have someone else represent you and market you than trying to do it yourself,” she advised. “I can sell my art but it’s hard to market myself.”

What’s the difference between marketing and selling?

According to Frances, selling is getting someone who is already there to buy your product. Marketing is getting yourself known so that you will have clients.

“I can sell my art. But it’s not easy to market it.”

The point is not the difference between selling and marketing but having someone else do it for you versus doing it yourself.

“If you try to do it yourself, you will come across as arrogant, desperate, and cheap. If you get someone else to represent you and do it for you, you will get the opportunities (gigs) faster, get more of them, and get paid more.”

Frances’ experience in selling art translates to the music world. As musicians, we face the catch 22 situation of having to do it ourselves to get good enough before an agent or impresario is interested enough to want to do it for us. It’s an arduous climb to get to the point where someone else will do the marketing and selling for us.

By the time we’re good enough to get concerts easily and quickly, we expect agents to queue to market us to get a piece of that pie. By the time we get there, we don’t want to do marketing or selling anymore. We just want to perform.

Is there a short cut?

Robert looked at me. “Do it for me, Anne.”

 

House concert for an artist

I said on my last visit,”You should have a house concert so people can see your artwork.”

I told her about the house concert series in Amsterdam that was launched by a couple of art lovers. They wanted people to see and buy the art displayed on their walls and home. Live music was a good way to do that. What a concept — to use live music to lure listeners to view new works of art!

Anne Ku, caricature 1998
Anne Ku, caricature 1998

About three years ago, I spotted a notice on the bulletin board of Utrecht Conservatory. It was a WANTED ad for musicians interested in performing in a house concert. I called the local architect who had posted the ad. She lived very close to me and invited me to try her baby grand piano that sat in the living room. And so began a conversation about doing a house concert in her home.

In those three years, I composed and produced my final exam concert, organised many house concerts, performed in numerous more, graduated from conservatory, and tried to get others to hop on the band wagon of producing live classical music. I invited the architect to most of these events, none of which she was able to attend. She maintained her interest while she went through her own transformation.

She became an artist.

Perhaps she has always been an artist. I don’t know her so well, but on my last visit I saw her latest paintings on her walls. They were remarkable enough to be noticed.

Once again, she could not come to the house concert I was promoting then. In fact, she has never seen us in concert. She has never come to a single concert I produced. Neither have I attended her exhibitions or events. But she has a vision to have a house concert in her home.

I said on my last visit,”You should have a house concert so people can see your artwork.”

I told her about the house concert series in Amsterdam that was launched by a couple of art lovers. They wanted people to see and buy the art displayed on their walls and home. Live music was a good way to do that. And so they turned their one bedroom apartment into a museum and a concert hall. This was their hobby — to support artists and musicians.

I also told her about the importance of a unifying theme. She was excited about the possibility of painting to a theme. She told me about her neighbours who dreamed of opening a restaurant of their own one day. They love to cook and entertain. We could hold the concert in her home, with her artwork on display, and then walk to her neighbours’ house for home-cooked gourmet food afterwards.

We discussed this in early December 2009. She suggested that we think of a theme and allow herself enough time to paint to a theme.

Via two e-mails, we agreed on a date in April. A few days ago, she cycled to our monument house (where we hold our house concerts twice a year) to see my piano guitar duo play the pieces she will paint for the house concert. We agreed on the theme and how we would work together to make it another sold out, full-house concert.

Coincidentally a few months ago, I met another artist in Amsterdam who had thought of turning her studio into a stage. What a concept — to use live music to lure listeners to view new works of art!

What makes a great exhibition?

On our last full day in Florence, my mother and I went to an exhibition that surely beats all others we’ve seen in the past two weeks. It reminds me of the Matisse-Picasso exhibition we had seen in the Tate Modern years ago. Both were well-curated, informative, and entertaining. How can I apply what I’ve learned to our cross-domain initiatives at our Monument House Concert Series in Utrecht?

I consider myself rather new to the understanding and appreciation of visual art. My desire to attend exhibitions, however, started long ago, driven by curiosity and the kiasoo syndrome (not wanting to miss out). Over time, through conversations with artist friends and connoisseurs, I’ve learned that it takes time to understand and appreciate visual art, just as one would with music.

Much of what I know today comes from the high school humanities course I took from the late Mr Darwin Scales. His passion for art, music, literature, history, and philosophy was contagious. He was the reason I so wanted to see Europe at the age of 21.

On our last full day in Florence, my mother and I went to an exhibition that surely beats all others we’ve seen in the past two weeks. It reminded me of the Matisse-Picasso exhibition we had seen in the Tate Modern years ago. Both were well-curated, informative, and entertaining.

The last portrait in Florence

We did not expect “Art and Illusions” at the Palazzo Strozzi to keep us intrigued and interested for three hours. [Clearly management of expectations has a lot to do with this. Since we didn’t expect much, we were pleasantly surprised.]

 

Art and Illusions at the Palazzo Strozzi in Florence, Italy
Art and Illusions at the Palazzo Strozzi in Florence, Italy

We had a lot of time available on this sunny but slightly chilly day. It was our last day before heading south to Rome. It was the last museum we had planned to visit. [Exhibitions are not for the time-challenged. Less is more. I regret having rushed through Galleria dell’Academia and not had the time to sit and stare at Michelangelo’s David.]

 

We had not seen an exhibition like this before. [Novelty is an important factor.]

The bilingual text that accompanied each painting and exhibit was informative and clear. [This can be said of most museums, churches, and galleries that we have visited in Florence and Venice.]

The audio guide added value to the existing text. There were also musical interludes, i.e. music and illusions. [These additional things consistently supported the main theme.]

The last portrait in the Art and Illusions exhibition in Palazzo Strozzi in Florence
The last portrait in the Art and Illusions exhibition in Palazzo Strozzi in Florence

It was well-organised and divided into different relevant sections. We did not get lost. The exhibition built upon our knowledge. [As a result, we could focus on the content and not get confused or distracted.]

Most of all, the subject of art and illusions was interesting. I can think of parallels in music and acoustics, such as the way we fill in skipped notes to make a melody that otherwise would not make sense, the way we skip over false notes in our listening, the way we dismiss what we don’t want to hear. There are certainly compositional techniques that deceive the ear just as techniques of “trompe l’oeil” achieve visual illusions.

Combining visual art with live music performance

Liz Miller Photo Exhibition at Monument House Concert Series in Utrecht, Netherlands
Liz Miller Photo Exhibition at Monument House Concert Series in Utrecht, Netherlands

How can I apply what I’ve learned to our cross-domain initiatives at our Monument House Concert Series in Utrecht? We had launched our first exhibition at the last house concert of solo guitar from South Africa on 3rd October 2009. Although the concert was sold out in three days and a success by all accounts, I felt the need to give the exhibition more visibility.

Expand on the theme of water (as shown in the 13 polaroid images in the piano room) to coincide with a concert on the theme of water. Already a pianist has offered to play Ravel’s Jeux Deux. Our duo will play Lan Chee Lam’s Drizzle. Anybody for Chopin’s Raindrop Prelude?

Photo exhibition of Liz Miller at the Monument House in Utrecht, Netherlands
Photo exhibition of Liz Miller at the Monument House in Utrecht, Netherlands

William of Rotterdam

I told 7 year old William that we wanted to share our music and interesting stories with the world. His father said that he drew comic strips in his spare time. Trilingual in English, Dutch, and French, William is more likely to experience different points of view than someone who is monolingual.

I made good use of the three hour train journey from Paris to Rotterdam by changing and updating the Piano Guitar Duo concert page based on suggestions from a supportive reader. While at it, I also changed the blog page of the site.

As soon as the Thalys train crossed the border into the Netherlands, I called my friend who lives in Rotterdam but loves Paris. I couldn’t wait to tell him about my 4 days 5 nights in this incredible city.

He brought along young William, to whom I was introduced in March at the Effusion house concert in our Monument House Concert Series in Utrecht. William had begun piano lessons while the other young guest Riley had just begun violin lessons. It was good to see young people enjoy a concert of new music.

I told 7 year old William that we wanted to share our music and interesting stories with the world. Our photos don’t always do that. Neither does audio and video recorded music. This blog is meant to fill the gap.

But something is still missing.

The human touch of a hand drawn interpretation? With narrative?

His father said that he drew comic strips in his spare time. Trilingual in English, Dutch, and French, William is more likely to experience different points of view than someone who is monolingual. Perhaps he also sees the world differently.

Talking to young William, who has natural entrepreneurial tendencies, shed light on new ways of looking at piano and guitar. Youth offers the freedom of imagination that age has forgotten.

No sooner had I arrived in Utrecht, 40 minutes away, did I get an e-mail of a scanned copy of his first interpretation of our piano guitar duo (below). [Click on the image for the 800 x 600 version.]

First work for piano guitar duo by William of Rotterdam
First work for piano guitar duo by William of Rotterdam

Before I had time to react, he already churned out yet another.

Second work for piano guitar duo by William of Rotterdam
Second work for piano guitar duo by William of Rotterdam

Suppose he comes to one of our concerts, would he then draw differently? Would it fuel his wild imagination or stifle it? Are there more ingenious ways to react to a concert other than the obvious expressions and words?

Could William add to my collection of Music on Canvas in Paris?

I have asked several artists before him to draw our piano guitar duo.

William of Rotterdam, I shall call him, is the first to do so.

To-date, he is the only one to have done so.

ADDENDUM

I am told that William is 7 (not 8 as I had written yesterday). Checking the blog statistics, I’m pleasantly surprised to see it jump six-fold, i.e. twice the previous daily high reached. Obviously William has many fans, perhaps even more than we!