Making private space public

Eight years ago, I gave a paper on “house concerts for art music” to economists in love with music in Copenhagen. Today, Groupmuse is one of the grassroot initiatives that intermediates between artists and venue owners to realise such a concept. On Maui, I know of a clarinettist who produces these concerts from his home — always sold out. In and around Utrecht, I know of at least two. What are the issues that confront turning your private space into a concert venue for the public?

Continue reading “Making private space public”

Houston Public Radio KUHF

Today I read that the new CEO Shumate laid off key personnel at Houston Public Radio KUHF.

I was shocked.

The Front Row interviewed our duo twice – the first time in 2007, our first performance in Houston; the second in 2010, almost exactly 3 years ago.

It was a novel experience to go on radio, not just to be interviewed but to play on radio. To play meant playing on a magnificent concert grand — a Steinway — in the radio’s recording studio.

I wish we had taken photos of ourselves in the studio. This was before smartphones. It was before we knew how to behave on radio. At least we blogged about it.

Listening to the radio clips reminds me there’s more work to be done. We have recorded Summer and Winter of Vivaldi’s Four Seasons, and then our lives got hugely interrupted. We need to do Spring and Autumn. When will that be?

There are many interesting stories surrounding the compositions and even more that we could relate to regarding our re-discovery and revival of these compositions for our two instruments.

Reading the latest news about KUHF’s layoffs distresses me. Bob Stevenson, who had interviewed us, has been laid off. Couldn’t the CEO’s salary be halved and save a few positions?

Here on Maui, I almost exclusively listen to the Hawaii Public Radio in my car. I tell my music literature students to give up what they usually listen to and, at least for the current semester, listen only to public radio. It’s a good way to absorb classical music by immersing yourself in it.

What do we do now? Download the mp3 clips and save them before everything disappears!

Ides of March Concert

The Ides of March is a name for the 15th of March, clever branding for a concert.

Branding begins with a name.

A relevant name makes it easier to remember than a non-relevant one.

Make the name easy to pronounce and spell. Then it’s easy to remember.

The 15th of March is traditionally known as Ides of March.

Ides of March first page by Anne Ku
Ides of March first page by Anne Ku

For years, I celebrated the Ides of March, not for “bubble, bubble, toil and trouble” or the risk of it, but rather the fact that I launched my first website on the Ides of March.

One particular Ides of March in 1997, I drove my red Nissan convertible out into the wet streets of Houston. Actually, it was more than wet. It was flooding. At the wettest point, I found my car swimming in the waters of Upper Kirby. This ordeal left such an impression that, immediately upon my return, I wrote the lyrics and music to “Ides of March.”

For my Friday Piano Class, I decided to give their first recital a name — the Ides of March Concert. Doors open at 1:45 pm. The Concert begins at 1:45 pm on Friday 15th March 2013 — in Maui!!

5 steps to concert promotion

Anne shares 5 steps she learned from 10 years of promoting concerts that she attended, organized, produced, hosted, or performed in.

One of the most read posts in this blog is “Getting people to come to a concert.” Another name for this exercise is audience development. One goal is to get enough people to come to a concert so that your costs are covered and you can even get a return. Another goal is to have these people that come to your concert come to  your next one and, even better, they get others to come.

The first concert may be a lot of work (to promote). Each subsequent concert should get easier. After you’ve built a reputation and a mailing list, you should get a full house every time.

Empty seats before the first concert at the Monument House Utrecht
Empty seats before the first concert at the Monument House Utrecht

In the last 10 years of experimenting with different ways to get people to come to my concerts, I’ve identified 5 steps that have worked for me.

  1. Identify who you want to come to the concert.
    This is where you have to analyse your audience make-up. In Houston, I brought my colleagues. In London, I invited my neighbors, colleagues, and new contacts. In the case of Monument House Concert Series in Utrecht, Netherlands, I wanted new people to come so that they can experience the authentic house concert tradition. I knew that previous guests would always come because of the sticky nature of such intimate occasions. I also knew the viral nature of word of mouth. But it was getting new people that was the challenge. If I only expected the same people to come every time, our concert goers would have been a clique.
  2. Analyse the lure.
    What is the ace of spades? Is it the music? The performer(s)? The composer(s)? The audience? (People want to come to be with other people they expect to see there.) The venue? The occasion? The date/time? (nothing else better to do). The theme? (benefit concert). Identifying the ultimate lure is the key to a yes.
  3. Figure out where these folks are located, i.e. how they can be reached.
    You may start with the low hanging fruit, i.e. your family, friends, neighbors, and colleagues. Beyond that, how do you find your audience? Where do they hangout? Music stores? Music libraries? Music colleges? A concert? How about music lovers groups on Linked-In?  “If it’s fish you’re looking for, why climb trees?”
  4. Use the right communication tool.
    Some folks read their emails and act. Some react to newspaper ads. Some listen to the radio. There are online, offline, face-to-face communication methods. You might have to try everything. See “concert promotion by other media.”
  5. Write. Rewrite. Format. Reformat.
    A concert invitation is different from an announcement. You have to write to persuade. You may even have to put a personal touch to it. The result you want is action — which leads to a full house and a guestbook that looks like this.

The secret to success is your mailing list. The bigger it is, the higher the chance of drawing an audience. Mailing lists get built over time not over night. This is the subject of yet another blog post.

Remembering Villa Maria

Anne Ku remembers performing in Villa Maria in Houston, now up for sale for $5.7 million.

During our tightly packed 5-week concert tour from Boston to Maui (18 Oct – 25 Nov 2010), we did not have the time to write about every concert. Needless to say, this does not mean that we do not remember them!

When my friend Grace e-mailed me that Villa Maria was up for sale, I discovered I hadn’t even mentioned this important concert that flew us into Houston, cutting short our stay in Phoenix!

Villa Maria concert in Houston, Texas, November 2010
Villa Maria concert in Houston, Texas, November 2010. Photo: Rodney Waters

My friend Linda had pushed for us to perform in that mansion. I had no idea it was so grand, the occasion so elegant and completely out of this world.

Houston was where house concerts started for me. In February 2001, I performed in a concert of improvised music. There were two Steinways, one from New York, the other from Hamburg, side by side. It was River Oaks. It was my first house concert.

Who would have thought that I’d be back in Houston nearly 10 years later, actually giving concerts?

I invited my friend Grace to the concert at Villa Maria. She probably thought every house concert was just like that — something out of a movie or ancient Rome.

It was a guitar extravaganza — a program already full. But the organizers managed to squeeze us in – just 20 minutes which became 15 minutes – 2 pieces: Vivaldi’s Winter from Four Seasons and Manuel de Falla’s La Vida Breve.

The owners sat directly in front of the stage like the patrons of days past. The concert hall was purposefully built and opened onto the balcony. Beneath was where we warmed up — a converted gym. Robert recalls: “it was my first time, being in a 5-star gym as a green room and the stage was like a Roman villa, complete with paintings: the perfect backdrop for a program with Vivaldi.”

The article neglected to mention the prized and decorated Doris Duke Steinway grand piano that I played on. I wonder if that is for sale, too? [Open the article in full view and scroll to the middle to read about this 1901 New York Steinway Model B.]

Pachelbel Canon in C

Anne Ku introduces Pachelbel’s famous Canon to beginners of piano.

Johann Pachelbel’s most famous work is his Canon in D. George Winston played his version of it in the key of C. Why not? C is 2 sharps easier than D major.

Is it possible to decompose it further? Simplify it so that even beginners can have fun with it?

I recall a post-concert spontaneous “jam session” in Houston, Texas where Robert on his guitar and I on the piano played the chords of Pachelbel and the host improvised on his flute. It was such fun that I wanted to do it again.

A canon, by definition, is a piece of music where one voice repeats the part of another, throughout the whole piece. Pachelbel’s Canon is often subtitled with “basso ostinato” — a repetitive bass. Once you know the bass line and the sequence of chords, you can repeat it over and over again.

Pachelbel's Canon arranged for solo and group playing by Anne Ku
Pachelbel's Canon arranged for solo and group playing by Anne Ku

In the above score, notice there are 4 parts. Four different players can play in sequence. The first begins. The second joins at the beginning when the first reaches rehearsal mark A. Similarly the third player joins at the beginning when the first reaches rehearsal mark B and the second reaches rehearsal mark A.  And so on.

Of course there is more development than these 16 bars, but at least beginners can play this.

I googled “Pachelbel Canon and C” and discovered that others have arranged simple versions for solo piano in the key of C. And there are plenty of free sheet music on the Internet such as this one.

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!

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.

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.

Live recording for radio Houston

Bekkers Piano Guitar Duo returned to Houston in 2010 and appeared on Houston Public Radio KUHF Front Row Programme for the second time with previews of their forthcoming second CD Winter!

What a surprise to discover  Houston Public Radio KUHF chose us for their final programme of the Front Row in 2010! We had pre-recorded it on Friday 12th November 2010, a busy day that began at 6:30 am with interview at another Houston radio station, followed by a free public concert at the MD Anderson Cancer Center.

The nearly one hour programme is on the KUHF webpage. “Husband-and-wife musicians, guitarist Robert Bekkers and pianist Anne Ku treat us to a salon concert from the Geary Performance Studio! Based in The Netherlands, …” more

Bekkers Piano Guitar Duo in Warmond, Netherlands Photo: Humphrey Daniels
Bekkers Piano Guitar Duo in Warmond, Netherlands Photo: Humphrey Daniels

The program previews our forthcoming CD Winter — which follows our first CD Summer! The producer Bob Stevenson asked us to play the first and last (skipping the slow second) movement of Vivaldi’s Winter from his Four Seasons. We gave this programme during 2010 in the Netherlands and on our 5-week USA tour.

Included on this show was a short guitar solo cadenza of the Dutch national anthem which Robert invented for the lengthy Grand Potpourri National. The other original work for piano and guitar was the second half of Amsterdam-based composer Gijs van Dijk’s “Abstract and Dance.” Robert Bekkers had arranged Handel’s Arrival of the Queen of Sheba (first piece on the KUHF programme and played in its entirety). Another arranged piece for our duo was Fritz Kreisler’s version of Manuel de Falla’s Spanish Dance from La Vida Breve which we both adapted for piano and guitar (also the entire piece).

Order of works on the Front Row Program:

first part: (mp3)

  • Arrival of the Queen of Sheba Handel, arr. Bekkers
  • Spanish Dance from La Vida Breve, de Falla, arr. Kreisler, Bekkers, Ku

second part: (mp3)

  • Winter, Vivaldi, arr. Bekkers (1st and 3rd movement only)

third part: (mp3)

What’s interesting about this recording session was that we were playing to an invisible and unknown audience that would listen in the future — an unknown date in the future on which it would be broadcasted and an unknown date on which people would listen online. There was no applause in the recording studio of the radio station. You could say we had only two people in the audience in the studio: the producer Bob Stevenson interviewing us, and sound engineer Todd Hulslander on the other side of the glass window.

Some corrections: I didn’t graduate from Utrecht University but Utrecht Conservatory in 2008, two completely different institutions both located in Utrecht, Netherlands. Robert mentioned he had to bring down “Winter” one whole note — what he meant was whole tone — a Dutchism.

The radio programmers chose a photo of us taken by the Dutch photographer Humphrey Daniels in a monastic church in Warmond, Netherlands where we had recorded a concert towards the end of 2008. One of those pieces (recorded by Dutch sound engineer Boy Griffioen) found its way to our first CD Summer — Romance from Mozart’s Eine Kleine Nacht Musik, arranged for our duo by Robert Bekkers.

Bekkers Piano Guitar Duo at Utrecht Conservatory K108 Photo: Olaf Hornes
Bekkers Piano Guitar Duo at Utrecht Conservatory K108 Photo: Olaf Hornes

We noticed a huge difference between our second recording at KUHF in 2010 and the first in 2007! The first live recording and interview in December 2007 was also the first time Robert and I had ever appeared on radio. We thought we would pre-record it and thus arrived an hour early. Little did we know that it was going to be a LIVE broadcast! We were less talkative and less knowledgeable about being interviewed in 2007.