United breaks guitars and guitar cases

United breaks guitars — sound familiar? United Airlines broke a guitar case. Another tune? Another rhyme?

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If music performance is your livelihood, you cannot afford to compromise on your instrument. Airlines are obliged to provide safe travel for you and your luggage. If the airline does not allow you to carry on your instrument, it has an obligation to return your possession intact. If your instrument case gets damaged, you cannot depend on the case to protect or carry your instrument.

CRACKED GUITAR CASE

Dutch guitarist Robert Bekkers returned from his 3-week solo tour with a cracked guitar case. It got damaged on the United Airlines UA1108 flight from Phoenix (dep. 2:55 pm) to Honolulu (6:49 pm HST) on 28th February 2011.

Why does it sound familiar? I have have never had a problem with United Airlines. But I have heard of a famous song about “United breaking guitars.” In fact, just googling those three words led me to Dave Carroll’s web page about the trilogy. There you can play the song that made him famous and United Airlines infamous. The three videos are cleverly done, the tune is sticky  — even I find myself humming it when I think of United Airlines. It’s a David vs Goliath story that has made headlines.

I asked Bekkers why he hasn’t complained. He said that he had enquired as soon as he landed in Honolulu and saw the damage but there was not enough time to walk to the other terminal (to the United Airlines desk) before catching his connecting flight to Maui. Once in Kahului Airport, he discovered it was too late to report the damage. The next day he called and e-mailed to find out how to make a complaint. Three weeks later, he still has not heard anything.

Tomorrow (Thursday 24th March 2011) Bekkers catches the “red-eye” to Phoenix. Because of the cracked guitar case, he will have to keep it next to him at all times. No tape or rope will undo the cracks. Next week he flies to London and Amsterdam. Will the cracked guitar case save his Jeroen Hilhorst 2005 concert guitar from damage? No one knows. But he is not flying United.

What can we conclude from this? United continues to break guitars?  No, United now has moved on to breaking guitar cases.

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.

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.

Build a relationship before you meet

Planning an event with people you have not met offers the unique opportunity to build new relationships. Bekkers Piano Guitar Duo shares their experience with collaborating with musicians, concert producers, and music lovers in planning their 40-day USA concert tour in 2010.

Half of our 40-day concert tour through the USA was a trip down memory lane. I was reconnecting with high school and college classmates as well as friends I had not seen for years.

The other half of the tour felt like online dating. Robert Bekkers and I were building relationships with people we had never met or known through e-mail, skype, Facebook, and phone calls BEFORE the actual concerts took place.

How does this work when you organise a concert tour without an agent?

We did not have all 20 concerts and 2 radio interviews arranged before we left the Netherlands. In fact, only a handful were definite. The first three and last four concerts were organised by people we had never met before. We continued e-mailing each other to fine-tune the concert arrangements, e.g. date, time, duration, seating capacity, publicity, invitations, announcements, payment, etc.

How do you build a relationship before you meet?

How do relationships get formed?

Through transactions, through communication, opinions get formed. Expectations are managed. Anticipation is built in the run up to an event. When you’re working towards the same goal, that is, to make an event happen successfully, you become partners in collaboration. How you work, how your communicate and react tells the other person something about you and vice versa.

There are no drawn out theses or lengthy biographies about each other. How do we trust someone we’ve never met?

The first person was introduced to us from someone we respect — a doctor in the community. His reputation was validated by someone who knew someone who knew him. We asked if he knew someone else who could arrange a concert for us. The person he suggested turned out to be someone that somebody else we knew also knew of. This triangulation is important for trust-building. A kind of validation, if you will.

The next concert producer came about through the introduction of someone we never met before but had contacted through a google search.

I guess what I’m trying to say in this blog is this:

You don’t have to know the person who helps you make a concert happen. You don’t have to hire the person. The music business is about collaborations. We all have something to gain from working with each other.

The concert producer gets musicians to play for his audience. Musicians get a chance to perform in a concert. The venue gets used. The audience gets to hear and meet the musicians.

The single benefit of not using an agent is that you get to build relationships directly with the people involved in making your concert happen. The drawback is that you have to spend a lot of time online, on the phone, and ensuring everything is agreed and put together, all down to the last detail. This means managing uncertainty and stress on top of the performing and traveling. As time-consuming as it may be, you get to learn about the other person and the process.

During our tour, we met and got to know the following individuals who love music as much as we do. There were many more we met in the audience. How marvelous that planning the concerts gave us the opportunity to meet and build new relationships!

New England

  • Peter Terry, concert producer of JP Concert Series in Boston and Yakov Zamir, countertenor
  • Linda Kernohan, pianist, composer, music director, St John Episcopal Church, and blogger
  • Karen Parsons, Suzuki piano teacher
  • Jonathan Parsons, music connoisseur
  • Frank Wallace, guitarist, baritone, composer
  • Mark Davis, guitarist and mandolin player & conductor, producer of North Meadows House Concert Series
  • Beverly Davis, guitarist

Durham, North Carolina

Phoenix, Arizona

Houston, Texas

Denver, Colorado

San Francisco, CA

Bekkers Piano Guitar Duo house concert in Carmichael, CA Photo: Daniel Roest
Bekkers Piano Guitar Duo house concert in Carmichael, CA Photo: Daniel Roest

From concerts to discussion panels

A pre-concert talk and string quartet interview in Den Haag inspired Anne Ku to follow suit in Phoenix and San Francisco in her duo concerts.

At the opening night of the International Chamber Music Festival in the Hague in September 2010, I witnessed a format I liked very much. The founder and artistic director, Eva Stegeman, inspired by TED talks, invited conductor Itay Talgam to give a pre-concert talk. Talgam went on to interview Dutch violinist Stegeman and her quartet, interrupting them after the first 10 minutes of Beethoven’s Quartet in F Major (opus 59 no. 1).

Stegeman called it “Chamber Music X-rayed.”

I call it —- thinking outside the box. Talgam asked the string quartet questions such as

  • If you don’t have a conductor, how do you know when to begin or end? Who leads?
  • Which passage do you like best?
  • How do you indicate the right tempo?

These are questions we don’t ask ourselves when we are rehearsing. How musicians communicate with each other in rehearsals is a mystery to most non-musicians. As performers, we don’t dissect the way we get our messages across. We indicate. We interpret. We might discuss. We compromise. It is not a science. We simply take it for granted, as musicians.

I had intended to write a review of that pre-concert talk and opening concert of the string quartet, but I got swept away by the momentum of preparing for our concert tour of the USA. Talgam and Stegeman’s on-stage “quartet discussion panel” brewed on my back burner until I got a chance to re-enact it in Phoenix, Arizona in early November and again in San Francisco.

At the Spirit of the Senses event in a loft apartment in Phoenix, Arizona, we gave a duo performance before the intermission. Afterwards, I invited Tom Houlon, the organiser, and guitarists Robert Bekkers and Matt Gould to sit in front of the audience. I moderated a discussion panel on house concerts.

Bekkers Duo in a loft apartment in Phoenix, Arizona
Bekkers Duo in a loft apartment in Phoenix, Arizona

Two weeks later, something similar happened in another loft apartment. After a chef-catered gourmet dinner, I invited the concert host Dr Chong Kee Tan to talk about his activities as amateur pianist, founder of his piano club, and founder/developer of High Note Live, an online software to manage artists, concerts, and audiences. I contrasted this against the view of the next panellist — composer, software-developer, and artistic manager Marc Parella. Only after the discussion panel did Robert Bekkers and I give our duo concert.

Because of the energy economists in the audience in San Francisco, I deliberately referred to cultural economics. While energy is a commodity, music is anything but. The half-hour discussion allowed the audience to participate. Perhaps this is a possible formula for future house concerts.

Loft apartment concert in Phoenix, Arizona
Loft apartment concert in Phoenix, Arizona

4 concerts in Arizona in 2 days

3 nights and 2 days in Phoenix, Arizona were packed with concerts, private guitar lessons, and connecting with musicians.

Just when we were about to book our tickets from Raleigh-Durham Airport (RDU) in North Carolina to Houston, Texas, our friend Matt Gould in Phoenix wrote, “Can you get here for a concert on the 4th?”

We cut short our stay in Durham and bypassed Houston for Phoenix.  Besides concertising and giving private lessons, we packed those 3 nights and 2 days with reconnecting with musician friends we knew from outside the USA and acquainting with new musicians in Phoenix.

In 2003, we met guitarist Matt Gould and violinist Beth Schneider of Duo46 and guitarist Josh Rhoads in North Cyprus. In 2007, we met composer Tom Peterson at the Cortona Contemporary Music Festival Italy. In November 2010, they introduced us to guitarist Chuck Hulihan and flautist Theresa Hulihan of Duozona and the violinist Miray Rhoads of Duo Vibrato. It seemed that Phoenix was headquarters for some of the best musicians on the planet.

Every minute of those three nights and two days was charged with energy and inspiration. Our friends who arranged the 4 concerts and many private guitar lessons shuttled us around in cars and accommodated us in their homes. Their hospitality flowed with no end in sight.

We gave our first concert at Glendale Community College to a very enthusiastic audience comprising mostly of guitar students and outsiders. Besides signing our CDs for sale, we also signed the colourful red posters that Chuck had gotten printed.

The next morning we gave a concert and discussion at Paradise Valley Community College, quickly followed by a trip to Arizona State University where we gave a concert in the famous organ hall.

Organ Hall at Arizona State University
Organ Hall at Arizona State University

In the evening, we gave a short concert in a beautiful penthouse loft apartment in downtown Phoenix. It was an event organised by the Spirit of the Senses, an outfit or event series that’s been around for nearly 3 decades, researching and organising events for its members. After the intermission, I moderated a discussion panel on house concerts. [Where are the photos of that beautiful apartment with the black baby grand piano?]

As it was our first trip to Arizona, we had hoped to visit the Grand Canyon. Instead, we left Saturday morning for Houston to play at a private concert.