Producing an event without being there: classical guitar concert on Maui

Anne Ku reflects on the decisions and steps required to produce a concert, specifically, the first and second classical guitar concerts at Maui College.

It is entirely possible to make an event happen without being there. If we’re to deconstruct the steps to produce an event such as a classical guitar concert, we can see what it takes in the following phases. Continue reading “Producing an event without being there: classical guitar concert on Maui”

Conversations in the Garden by John Bilotta

Anne Ku introduces John Bilotta’s colourful piano duet to other pianists in Maui, San Francisco, and Utrecht, Netherlands.

Few duets out of the 42 I accepted in the Call for Scores for Multi-hand duets received the full mileage from Maui to Utrecht.

John Bilotta’s piano duet “Conversations in the Garden” was sightread in Maui, studied and performed in San Francisco in his presence, and sightread again in 3 places in Utrecht Netherlands. On its return journey to Maui, the duet will be recorded.

The title “Conversations in the Garden” evokes images of spring and the flowers in my garden. I missed it this year in Maui where there’s an everlasting summer. Luckily I am on the special mailing list of my artist friend from high school, Robby Judkins. Now based in Columbus, Georgia, Judkins captured my imagination well below.

"Spring Collection" 12x16 acrylic on canvas by Rob Judkins
"Spring Collection" 12x16 acrylic on canvas by Rob Judkins

In his new quatre-mains work, John Bilotta painted a nice image of the colours of conversations and what we expect in a garden. The duet meanders from an initial 3/4 time to 2/4 to 4/4 to 3/4 just as easily as it moves through different tonalities. Conversations are like that. You start with one subject but easily go off in tangents, returning now and then, sometimes overlapping different strands or themes. You never really stay focussed on one topic but stray off to others.

Well-written and laid out in parts, the 2.5 minute duet sounded better each time we played it, for each time we understood it better. The dynamics and other notational marks are intentionally and clearly indicated. This kind of detail makes performers feel secure that the composer knows what he is doing. To some degree, a work that looks final (i.e. ready to be published or already published) validates itself.

Conversations in the Garden piano duet by John Bilotta - PRIMO
Conversations in the Garden piano duet by John Bilotta - PRIMO

The pedal markings are noted in the secundo part.

Conversations in the Garden piano duet by John Bilotta - secundo
Conversations in the Garden piano duet by John Bilotta - secundo

John Bilotta provided the following programme notes to this wonderful work:

I have been working with the material for Conversations in the Garden for some time trying to find just the right form in which to present its musical ideas. Ultimately, I found that this four-hand arrangement best captured the tone, mood, and play of voices—in particular, the opportunity to space the musical lines vertically allowing the inner voices to be heard. Conversations is built from a simple motif and its transformations in an chromatically rich harmonic structure. It should be played with a quiet and graceful elegance, without excessive show, larger phrases swelling and subsiding in breezes and waves.

Confident that Chong Kee Tan, the organiser of the Piano Soiree in San Francisco in May 2011, would sightread and play this piece with me, I invited John Bilotta to the event. It was a pleasure to perform the duet in front of the composer.

John Bilotta, composer, and Anne Ku in San Francisco, May 2011
John Bilotta, composer, and Anne Ku in San Francisco, May 2011

What inspires artists, musicians, and other “creators”?

Conversations inspire artists. Works of love and labour do also. Living in a place with panoramic views in Maui is another.

“Genius is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration.” Thomas Edison

Creativity requires inspiration. It takes a spark to light a fire. Where does that spark come from?

Maybe it’s more like 20% inspiration that fuels the 80% perspiration — the 80-20 rule. One idea may start a chain of events, like the idea of getting a guitarist to go on a solo concert tour by himself. Most of his time is spent practising, preparing CDs for sale, getting concert bookings, making travel arrangements, and doing the actual work of performing and traveling.

Inspiration comes from conversation with people who stimulate us, like the recent gourmet dinner in the home of a composer and his chef-turned-knitter wife. That evening in Kula led to a private viewing and a house concert the following week.

Works of love and labour inspire us to try something of our own or remind us when we were in the “flow.”

Some people move to environments that are conducive to their creativity.

Every morning we wake up to the following scene, when the sun appears above the slope of Haleakala in Maui.

Dawn in Maui, from our balcony
Dawn in Maui, from our balcony

Even from inside the apartment, we can look through the floor to ceiling glass and admire the harbour and the volcano. This is what inspires me to write my blogs. This is what inspires Robert to create the CD covers and concert posters.

View from inside the apartment looking out
View from inside the apartment looking out

Every visitor that has come to our intimate house concerts in Wailuku has marvelled at the spectacular view from the balcony. From here, we can hear the outdoor concerts at the Maui Arts and Cultural Center. Elton John is visiting on 24th and 25th of February 2011. Perhaps that’s an occasion to discuss what inspires artists, musicians and other creators — on our balcony.

Balcony view of Maui Arts Cultural Center
Balcony view of Maui Arts Cultural Center

Preparing for Maine in Maui: making 3 CDs for concert tour

Dutch guitarist Robert Bekkers races against time to finish producing three CDs for his upcoming solo concert tour of Boston, Wells, Pelham, Houston, and Phoenix.

Dutch classical guitarist Robert Bekkers is preparing three new CDs for his upcoming solo concert tour of Boston, Wells (Maine), Pelham (New York), Houston, and Phoenix. The first two are live recordings of the Bekkers Piano Guitar Duo in concert in Maui (2007) and Durham, North Carolina (2010). The third is a new solo CD still being recorded from the bedroom of the apartment below.

Combining breakfast with making the artwork for the 2nd CD in Maui
Combining breakfast with making the artwork for the 2nd CD in Maui

Before the sun appears above the slopes of the volcano Haleakala, he is already awake, preparing coffee and breakfast. He usually reads his music history book while it is still cool in the apartment.

On Saturday 29th January 2011, he turns on his laptop and imports the new photos from the previous evening —  a private viewing of a newly commissioned painting Maui-based artist Frances Ku. He crops and re-sizes the image of the unframed watercolor of guitar and piano.

All preparations for this second CD, the live recording of his duo’s concert at Duke University on 2nd November 2010, have been made, except for the artwork.

The 10 tracks from the Duke CD have been uploaded onto CDBABY. The CD itself is being copied in upper Kula, in a house on the path to the crater of Haleakala. All he has to do now is to make the CD cover and send it to the CD presser and at the same time upload the album artwork onto CDBABY.

Meanwhile he is practising his solo repertoire to finish the third CD which contains the one-hour programme he will play on his solo concert tour. After the recording, he will listen to each track, edit, and master them to create a CD.

For the first CD, Bekkers Piano Guitar Duo LIVE in Makawao, he used a photo of the new painting “Piano and guitar in acryllic” by Georgia-based artist Rob Judkins. He extracted pieces of the photo image for the poster for the house concert in Maine. He also cropped part of Judkins’ painting for the CD label, which appears on the physical CD itself.

In the week that remains on Maui, he will be racing against time to finish recording his solo album, finish the artwork for the second CD, and assemble the envelopes (CD sleeves) for the first CD.

Next blog posts: CDs, music, collaboration with artists and composers.

Piano and guitar in acryllic by Rob Judkins

Anne Ku’s high school friend Rob Judkins painted his vision of piano and guitar in acryllic for the Bekkers Piano Guitar Duo’s next CD: Live in Makawao, Maui.

I have not seen or spoken to my friend Robby Judkins, as he was called then, since our graduation from Kubasaki High School in Okinawa. His Japanese wood cut print “Kokoro Kara” still hangs in my London home, reminding me of his extraordinary talent for creating something beautiful. It was Keats who said “a thing of beauty is a joy forever.” Everyone who has visited or stayed in that Victorian Cottage in Ealing has seen and experienced the beauty that Robby created.

Kokoro kara by Robby Judkins
Kokoro kara wood block print by Robby Judkins

“Kokoro kara” means from the heart. When one creates from the heart, one shares what one feels. I have often wondered about the Japanese wood block print. What were the two figures looking at? What was Robby’s inspiration?

Many years later, I found Robby on Facebook as Rob Judkins. Glancing through his photo album, I saw that he has continued to paint with a clear development into his own style.

I was relieved to see this, for I had heard of too many adults who gave up pursuing their childhood hobby or passion. I nearly did, only to return to music to find myself again. In doing so, I also remembered my dream to be free to travel the world.

I daresay that I am extremely privileged to be on Rob Judkin’s private mailing list — as a recipient of his latest works of art by e-mail.

His latest work is a colourful vision of piano and guitar. Although Rob Judkins has not heard or seen us perform, he has imagined it well. Our music is very exciting –as though the strings fly off the guitar and keys pop out the piano. We always get an adrenaline rush when we play.

Piano and Guitar in acryllic by Rob Judkins (2011)
Piano and Guitar in acryllic by Rob Judkins (2011)

The painting is 32″x48″ acrylic on boxed panel. Rob Judkins calls it “Anne’s instruments” since it was painted specifically for the Bekkers Piano Guitar Duo and the purpose of an album cover. It will be on the cover of our next CD: Makawao Live — a recording of our first public concert in the USA — at the Makawao Union Church in Maui on 29th December 2007.

When asked what inspired him to paint this, Rob wrote, “I wanted to do something different from your last album cover which by the way I thought was very beautiful, highly styled and cool. But this image is free and uninhibited, a feeling of anything goes…..guitar strings popping and piano keys flying. The instruments are alive. Its like the feeling of the music flowing through your body.”

Rob Judkins loves to paint. The majority of his paintings are in acrylics but he has many oils and some water colors. He has a range of sizes from 8″x10″ canvas to pieces as large as a 36″x80″. The majority of his work is hanging at D’Allens Salon and the Columbus Hospice, in Columbus, GA and some pieces at the Joseph House Art Gallery in Columbus, GA.

Rob spent a year and a half at Auburn University School of Arts but changed his career to the school of business. His passion for the arts still drives him to create and achieve interest and quality in his work. He spent his high school years in Okinawa, Japan taking Chinese painting and Japanese wood block printing classes. That influence can be seen in some of his work. Rob likes a wide variety of styles in painting. He will strive to paint a realistic landscape or an abstract painting. He says it doesn’t matter what the results as long as it speaks to someone or provokes a feeling in the individual viewer he has accomplished his purpose.

Rob Judkins’ art portfolio can be viewed from his website at 

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.”


Concert in artist’s atelier in Amsterdam Western Islands

The Amsterdam-based artist Egon Schrama is also a keen supporter of the arts. His 6 metre high atelier on Bickersgracht in the Western Islands of Amsterdam (just a stone’s throw away from the central station) will once again be turned into a concert venue on 29th July 2010. There are three Western islands “Westelijke eilanden”: Prinseneiland, Realeneiland and Bickerseiland. The islands are linked by beautiful draw bridges.

The first time I went to Egon’s atelier was to see the artist Serge van Empelen making huge sculptures. When I asked Egon Schrama how tall his atelier was —- I misheard it as being 60 metres and quite believed it. I’ve now been told by his friends, who help organise ad hoc house concerts in their neighbourhood of the Western Islands of Amsterdam, that the atelier is just 6 metres high.

The Western Islands of Amsterdam. Photo: J. Huber
The Western Islands of Amsterdam. Photo: J. Huber

These three Western Islands “Westelijke eilanden” are Prinseneiland, Realeneiland and Bickerseiland. The islands are linked by beautiful draw bridges. Many artists live and work on these islands. Every year in the Pentecost weekend they open up their ateliers for the public. Started 28 years ago and among the first to be organised in the country, the Open Ateliers on the Western Islands are now a well known phenomenon.

On Thursday 29th July 2010 this group of friends will organise and host a concert of contemporary works for the American violin and guitar duo called Duo46. Just recently, the same group of friends had organised a house concert for our piano guitar duo on a neighbouring island. Click to download information about the 29th July concert in 1-page PDF.

It is worthwhile to come a bit earlier, to have time to walk around on the islands, or even have a picnic. The canals and public gardens are lovely and have a village atmosphere. There is even an animal farm for children.

The Western Islands of Amsterdam. Photo: J. Huber
The Western Islands of Amsterdam. Photo: J. Huber

How to get to Egon’s Atelier, 10 Bickersgracht, Amsterdam:

From Amsterdam Central Station, it’s a mere 13 minute journey, including the 4 minute bus ride. Get bus 18, 21, or 22 which will take you westbound. Get off at the third bus stop “Buiten Oranjestraat” and walk on the same side as the street but go under the bridge (north).

Metered parking is available. There are no trams here. A taxi from Central Station costs € 7.50.

Future blogs about venues for live music concerts

Something about live music in artists’ work places fascinates me. In London Ealing, Yousif Naser has been turning his studio into a gallery and concert hall for at least a decade. In Utrecht, our piano guitar duo gave a concert in the home of a local artist.

Jim Collier: American painter in Amsterdam

In the case of Jim Collier, I met him before I saw his paintings. I confessed that I was not aware that Jim’s paintings were for sale until I came to Galerie Strous.

An exhibition for a painter is like a concert for a musician. We are for hire. Our CDs are for sale. For the artist, an exhibition also brings opportunities for future commissions.

At the “Muziek en Amuses” house concert of 17th April 2010, I was invited to the opening of a new solo exhibition of Jim Collier, an American artist based in Amsterdam. The invitation postcard was a beautiful reproduction of Jim Collier‘s “Twelve Houses, Amsterdam 50 x 105 cm” on one side. I posted it onto my refrigerator, as a reminder to visit the Galerie Strous on the Prinsengracht in the month of May.

As much as we wanted to, neither Robert nor I could make it to the opening on Sunday 25th April, for Robert was giving a solo performance in Voorschoten.

A gallery opening such as this was bound to attract interesting people, as I discovered from the photos on Facebook the next day.

By “interesting,” I mean people with interesting lives and perspectives — people I find fascinating to engage in conversation — people I could admire and learn from. I have met some of my most interesting friends at gallery openings and private viewings: the artist Yousif Naser and the late architect/ceramist Ayyub Malik, to name a few. What these people have in common is originality of thought. They are creators with their own philosophies and opinions. I like the buzz I get from talking to them.

In the case of Jim Collier, I met him before I saw his paintings. Only upon my second visit to his apartment in Amsterdam, did I realise that the huge close-ups of the Leaning Tower of Pisa and the Duomo of Florence were not photographs but oil paintings. Jim’s art is so real that one can’t help but wonder where the brush stroke begins and ends.

Jim Collier exhibition in Amsterdam
Jim Collier exhibition in Amsterdam

Inside Jim’s art studio in an 17th century canal house on Amsterdam’s famous Keizersgracht is a grand piano. How often do you find a grand piano in an art studio? Or an artist who can play the piano? Below, I believe, is a self-portrait of the artist (born on Halloween) at the piano. As a musician, I would love to see more paintings of musical instruments.

Painting by Jim Collier
Painting by Jim Collier

On Friday 28th May, I finally got the chance to visit Galerie Strous to see Jim Collier’s paintings of Italy, Amsterdam, and flying elephants.

It is quite a different experience to see an artist’s work previously seen in his home in the public space of a gallery. In Jim’s home, the paintings were part of the interior decoration. It was a seamless path from the front door to the kitchen — not a gallery where you would pause at each painting. At the gallery on Prinsengracht, the paintings were featured on white space with the occasional scupture by the gallery owner Leon Strous. The environment changes the context of the viewing experience.

Although the gallery was a public space, the presence of the owner offering a glass of rosé to the visitors made it personal. I should say that Galerie Strous is a private gallery, but the space was publically available to those that entered it on days that it’s open or by appointment.

I toasted a glass of cold and crisp rosé wine to Leon. “Won’t you join us?”

“I can’t,” he declined. “I am on duty.”

“You enjoy meeting people who come here, don’t you?” I asked Leon.

Leon Strous, sculptor and gallery owner
Leon Strous, sculptor and gallery owner

I can’t imagine all visitors receiving VIP treatment like me and Carole Anne. We sat across from Leon at his desk and discussed cultural economics. What kind of people buy art? What motivates people to own art? Can live music attract people to visit an art gallery?

I confessed that I was not aware that Jim’s paintings were for sale until I came to Galerie Strous. An exhibition for a painter is like a concert for a musician. We are for hire. Our CDs are for sale. For the artist, an exhibition also brings opportunities for future commissions.

I was hoping to meet the artist. Perhaps this blog post will take me there.

Anne Ku and artist Jim Collier in Amsterdam
Anne Ku and artist Jim Collier in Keizersgracht, Amsterdam

House concert: muziek en amuses

Memories of the 17th April 2010 house concert in Utrecht, Netherlands… to be continued

Before sunset on a warm Saturday 17th April 2010, my Albanian economist friend and I walked over the big pedestrian bridge, along the Merwede Canal, towards the magnificent 16th century monument building that housed both the Dutch Royal Mint and the Money Museum in Utrecht. I had hoped to discuss the intricacies of cultural economics and other pleasantries on our way to the house concert. But the walk was usurped by an urgent text message from the videographer who had forgotten to bring the directions and address.

Sunset at Leidsweg, Utrecht, the Netherlands
Sunset at Leidsweg, Utrecht, the Netherlands

There was not a plane in the sky, for the Icelandic volcanic eruption had caused all airports to close. One of the early bookers of the evening’s concert had emailed of her decision to stay at the office to help find alternative transport for her stranded colleagues. The videographer, on the other hand, had chosen to travel by overnight coach from London and to arrive early enough to get settled to record our concert.

The concert was being held in the home of an architect/artist couple who are the 4th owners of this “herenhuis,” a fine building unblemished through its 80 year history and largely left in its original state. The sparsely furnished reception rooms, 3.5 metre high ceilings, and parquet wooden floors made it ideal for a house concert. The August Forster grand piano sat in the corner waiting for an evening like this.

Setting up at the house concert in Utrecht
Setting up at the house concert in Utrecht

The house was buzzing with early guests and eager hosts. Robert and his friend Gaston from Qatar had already set-up the cables and microphones. A project manager for the oil industry by day, Gaston’s true passion is state-of-the-art audio recording. It was an unexpected gift to have a house concert recorded with the latest equipment — an offer we could not refuse.

Throughout the house of Elsbeth, the artist hosting this concert, we could see her original murals on the large white walls. Robert and I walked upstairs to change and prepare for the concert which was to begin at 8:30 pm.

Wall mural of Elsbeth Carp, artist in Utrecht
Wall mural of Elsbeth Carp, artist in Utrecht

to be continued…..

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!