Guitar rehearsal in public library

Yesterday, the Boston Guitar Orchestra held its first open rehearsal at the Somerville Public Library. I dare take credit for suggesting it to Robert, the conductor and artistic director. Rehearsing in a public space will draw attention to who we are. This idea was born years ago when I proposed to situate new digital pianos from my innovation grant in the library and other places outside the classroom. Visibility raises awareness.

So what was it like to rehearse in the open?

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Free concert for freeloaders

We arrived at the public library at exactly 2 pm, just when the concert was to begin. It was an old habit from my conservatory days —- never arrive too early to have to wait, but arrive just before it’s to begin. In this case, we had been cycling through colorful neighborhoods visiting open studios of artists. It was a beautiful sunny day, and giving up 1.5 hours (from our open studio journey) to a concert seemed almost a waste.

Except it was free. That made it worthwhile. The open studios were free. We even had a free lunch provided by one of the artists. Had it not been written in our plan, we would have skipped the piano concert and spent the rest of the afternoon on our bicycles.

There were many leaflets on the table in the concert hall. We grabbed the single A5 sheet program and the library newsletter.

A black grand piano stood on wheels on stage. From the sign “Please do not play the piano” it would appear that the piano lived there. It was not rented or brought into this space for the occasion. As a pianist, it’s my second nature to locate venues that have resident pianos, especially grand pianos.

A man welcomed us to the concert and announced the name of the pianist. We clapped and watched a young lady try to open a heavy door from the side. Out of courtesy and respect for the young pianist, we clapped until she arrived at the piano bench and bowed.

While she played, I started to hear other sounds.

The shuffling of paper.

The opening of candy wraps.

The sucking and popping of candies.

The movement of chairs.

When the music got louder, the ladies behind us started to talk. “Is this Chopin?”

I got so annoyed that I decided we should move our seats during the intermission. We waited. Just before the second half, we made a dash for the front row. We were no longer sitting in front of the candy-slurping ladies.

The second half was several decibels louder than the first half. Whereas the first half was lyrical, the second half was deliberately fast, furious, and intense. The audience sensed it. This gave some the license to talk, move, and annoy us even further. The lady behind us began to open, squeeze, and close her old plastic bag. I cringed.

The Korean pianist was excellent. She played selections from Albeniz, Grieg, Chopin, Tann, and Beethoven effortlessly. She even gave an encore of Chopin’s famous Scherzo. I couldn’t wait to talk to her after the concert.

The audience? I gave the audience an F. I couldn’t wait to get away.

But how could I possibly complain? It was a free concert after all. The audience could do as they please. I daresay this was probably the main reason I chose to organize concerts in my own home. Such audiences are not welcome. I set the rules.

No shoes.

No leaflets.

No candy wraps.

No plastic bags.

And you have to pay for the privilege of attending a house concert.

First visit to Muziek Centrum Nederland

Until a year ago, Gaudeamus, Donemus, and the Dutch Pop Institute were three separate entities. Now they are merged as one and housed in an unmarked building in central Amsterdam.

After our duo concert Monday afternoon, my American friend guided me on two different trams to get to a meeting at Rokin 111, Amsterdam. It was the address of the new “Music Centre the Netherlands” Muziek Centrum Nederland, or MCN for short. Until a year ago, Gaudeamus, Donemus, and the Dutch Pop Institute were three separate entities. Now they are merged as one and housed in an unmarked building in central Amsterdam.

I was curious why my 209-page bachelor thesis on sight-reading (piano) did not get nominated. Was my thesis too long (certainly the longest submitted) or that the topic was not as timely as that of gaming? Surely, I did not lose to guitar hero! The MCN Music Thesis prize was a 500 euro cheque and probably a lot of publicity. While I was compiling the PDF version for submission, someone in Madrid had offered to buy my thesis. I didn’t know what it was worth. But I hoped to find out here.

Before the award ceremony began, I introduced myself to two men sitting near the window. Ger and Gerard were librarians at MCN. It was my first visit to MCN, and I did not know what exactly MCN represented.

The librarians were impressed that I managed to conduct a conversation entirely in Dutch.

Are you American?

No, I’m not. Why? Do I have an American accent?

Well, you have a similar accent to Vanessa Lann, the American composer.

Yes, I have heard of her. I’ve never met her though.

Or David Dramm, another American composer based in Amsterdam.

He was one of the composers-in-residence who taught me at Utrecht Conservatory. There’s another American composer. He was a guest lecturer, Ron….?

Ron Ford.

That’s it! He was just leaving Duke University when I was there. In fact, it was my piano teacher, Randall Love, who suggested that he go to Amsterdam to compose new music. Holland was a place where new music got performed, he had said to Ron Ford.

Are you American?

No, I’m not. Definitely not. But I’m amazed how many American composers have settled in this country.

I mentioned another composer-in-residence, Chiel Meijering. I had ordered a piece he wrote for guitar and harpsichord. While the guitar part was clearly written, the keyboard part was not. I complained that the handwritten manuscript of 1981 was difficult to read, and as a result, my duo would not study it for performance.

Bring it back. Let’s see what we can do about it.

What do you mean? I had already emailed Chiel, the Dutch composer famous for cranking out music at high speeds, that I preferred to read computer notation. He had replied that his piece was written before that era. ‘n Dame scheert haar benen (Lady Shaves Her Legs) thus laid in my pile of promising sheet music for our duo, nearly forgotten until this conversation.

The next day, Tuesday 24th March, I brought the Meijering sheet music to the library. And from there, I was led to Donemus, the famous publishers of new music in the Netherlands.