Thursday 29 March 2012

How to be a more fulfilled person

On hearing my friend triumph in a Mozart flute concerto ….
Q: What is the Coca Cola reason for being a non-pro musical performer?
A: Obvious isn´t it? It´s the desire to get other people tapping their feet .. as in I want to teach the world to sing
That was one of the reasons I put forward about what motivates people (myself included) to dedicate time and energy to perform in public without an economic incentive. Yes, I know a simpler way of saying it is to use the expression amateur music making. Unfortunately the term amateur musician has taken on pejorative connotations, so I’m using the longer description.

Among the groups I have most enjoyed hearing over the years there are many which perform without an economic incentive, not least the admirable Eclectic Voices who I heard in concert at Union Chapel in London, directed by the wonderful   Scott Stroman

The stress level involved in performing as part of a group, even in the most challenging repertoire and in the most famous venue, is cushioned by the support and companionship of fellow musicians. So much so that it is not hard to see how singing in a choir or playing in an orchestra can be a pleasurable experience.

I can see too that playing pop or jazz music has its lighter side and the informality of the scene often means that even playing solo can be a relaxed experience. After all, didn’t the great Miles Davis say that in jazz there are “no wrong notes”. Yes, you got me, he didn’t really mean you can be a rubbish player, but you know what I mean, in a pub full of drunks and smoke of all varieties, an odd note here or there is not the end of the world. Talking of Miles Davis, and his experience of being obliged to use electric keyboards in large stadia, the great Keith Jarrett said that electric instruments are like toys, all you can do is play with them….

So, where was I? Yes, in a classical orchestra concert of players from many nations and who follow many professions or none, where my friend was soloist in a Mozart concerto for Flute & Harp. So, why does a successful professional person, whose work does not involve her directly in performing on stage, place herself in this hugely stressful situation? Not only was there an audience of strangers lost in the dark of the theatre, but there they were, in the front row, my friend´s work colleagues from her office, right up to the big boss. Since they already know and like her and respect her professional ability, there is nothing for her to prove, only the the awful prospect that a bucket full of nerves could lead to her turning in a dire performance.

Needless to say the nerves were kept under control and the performances was totally enjoyable and deserved the prolonged applause which followed. Then came the answer. We don´t do this for the applause, we don´t do this for the conductor´s pat on the back, we don´t do this because we need friends and colleagues to like or respect us more…..

In the end the real reason for putting oneself in this stressful and challenging situation is for one´s own personal satisfaction, to become a more fulfilled person. 

As my friend said to me backstage: 

“One more thing off the list of things to do before I …..”

Saturday 10 March 2012

Employment statistics in the cultural sector in Europe

If you work in the cultural sector in Spain you are twice as likely to be a graduate as a person working in other sectors, and you represent part of 1.3% of the total working population. Your German colleagues represent 2.2% of their country’s working population, with the figures for UK at 2.1%, France at 1.7% and Italy at 1.1%. Across the 27 EU countries in 2009 the average was 1.7%.

Writers and creative artists
The number of persons employed as writers and creative artists in Spain rose from 77,600 in 2004 to 101,500 in 2009.
The corresponding figures for France are 150,500 / 180,200 and for the UK 140,500 / 195,600. If you want near stagnation go to Italy, with almost no change in 5 years from 118,300 to 119,100. 

Which European country has the largest number of persons employed as writers and creative artists? If you want to know the answer, go to the end of this post.
Big numbers do not necessarily mean that you have more chance of being employed in the cultural sector. The figures for what writers and creative artists represent as a % of the total number of employed persons are remarkably close across countries. In 2009 in Spain writers and creative artists took a 0.5% of total employment; in France and in the UK 0.7%; in Italy 0.5%; and in Germany 0.8%.
If you want high % rates, go to Netherlands, with 1.3%, or Finland and Sweden with 1.5%. In Iceland the figure rises to 1.9%, but the beautiful island of the hot water springs is something of an exception due to its small population.

This fascinating information forms part of data presented in the pocketbook "Cultural Statistics 2011", published by the European Commission. I have written in an earlier post about  other aspects of culture such as levels of participation in cultural activities and citizen involvement as consumers and creators, also from this report.
In the Cultural Statistics pocketbook, the data are taken from the EU Labour Force Survey (LFS). Detailed statistics concerning employment in cultural economic activities and occupations can be obtained on request from the EU. You can read it all for yourself at the EU culture portal 

This current set of data refers to employment, and is especially relevant in these times when jobs are so hard to find. If you considering working in the cultural sector it is very useful to be able to compare the % rates of total employed persons who can thrive in the cultural sector; or that writers  and creative artist can represent  a larger or smaller share of the total of employed persons.
As well as knowing the data, it is essential to have access to the actual job opportunities available at any given time. A search through the relevant jobs sections of the press, on paper and digital, is one method. It is also important to understand the level of mutual interest between countries. Here are some notes on a recent report about the current state of linguistic interaction between Spain and Germany. 

I recently wrote about two sites which give a constantly updated summary of job opportunities as well as a wide range of information about developments in the cultural sector and they are certainly essential to any person who is serious about searching for job opportunities  in the cultural sector. They are LabforCulture and FabricaCultural.

Opportunities currently available on LabforCulture include:

European Cultural Foundation is looking for an experienced and enthusiastic Digital Communication Officer. If social media and online communication are second nature to you, and if you want to share your digital know-how within a stimulating, international environment, then find out more about this vacancy (see LabforCulture)
International Arts Management Lab
For arts managers and arts administrators
March 23, 24, 25 
Vienna, Austria

The Lab is the introductory course which opens the door towards the new collaboration project in Russia in autumn 2012 - 
the six-week period of performance creation in a Russian repertory theatre together with Russian actors and performers from different countries!
There are several scholarships available for participation in the Lab in March in Vienna!
The scholarship covers the full participation fee.

Among the opportunities currently displayed at FabricaCultural are the following:
Auxiliares de biblioteca. Madrid
Assistant/Associate University Librarian. California.
Traductor y revisor de francés. Naciones Unidas. Yugoslavia. 
Interprete de francés para conferencias. Naciones Unidas. PHNOM-PENH 
Graphic Arts Assistant.Naciones Unidas. Nueva York
Prácticas de documentalista en Institut de Recherche PIERRE FABRE. Francia. 
Profesor en Sheffield Hallam University. Reino Unido. 
Prácticas de documentalista en SCE. Francia. 
Monitor de teatro para actividades extraescolares.
Archivista Bureau van Dijk Ingénieurs Conseils. Francia

Also, they are also promoting an interesting workshop on grants and other funding from Spain and Europe:
Taller "Financiación de proyectos culturales: subvenciones, concursos y ayudas españolas y europeas"

You can follow FabricaCultural on Twitter  @fabricacultural 

By the way, the European country which has the largest number of persons employed as writers and creative artists is Germany, where the figures for 2004 and 2009 are 235,000 / 327,800.

Monday 5 March 2012

Sir James Henderson School Choir & Orchestra concerts in Madrid

 One of the most varied and entertaining groups to visit us in Madrid was the one directed by Martin Biggs, Director of Music at the Sir James Henderson School
I realize it was quite a long time ago since he brought his group from Milan, Italy. I am going to do some checking now to see exactly when, but it is certainly a visit full of happy memories.
A colleague of mine who had a four year old child at our school said to me one day that his little boy had gone home saying that he had heard an opera singer from Italy sing in the playground. It was quite true, as Martin Biggs’ group included a trained opera singer who just happened to be a parent and had joined the tour to take part in the music and act as chaperone. Their first concert with us was, as with all visiting groups, for our youngest pupils, and several hundred tiny children listened attentively and clapped enthusiastically at the open air performance. 

Photo: singing opera in the open air for little children
Later in the day the whole group, including chamber orchestra, choir and their accompanist, moved inside to perform again, this time to secondary pupils. The longer time allowed for a wider repertoire to be sung and played. Highlights again were the opera arias, and for me also the Italian folk songs, which went with a real swing.

Photo: preparing to perform for secondary students
As I had been busy helping to arrange the concerts at my school, it was a refreshing change to attend the performance at the Italian cultural centre in the heart of old Madrid, housed in a grandiose residence, not for nothing called a “palacete”. The acoustics were excellent, the sight lines ideal and the audience I think brought together almost all the members of the Italian community in Madrid, plus lots of interested local people for good measure. Under Martin Biggs’ direction all the music went well, even the most challenging pieces. There is no doubt that the real crowd pleasers were the Italian folk songs, and these were repeated as an encore. Talking to the students afterwards, they were surprised at the audience’s insistence on hearing more folk songs, and they were a little disappointed that there seemed to be less appreciation of their more serious pieces on the programme. The truth is that they did perform the serious pieces well, it’s just that their renditions of the folk songs were so special precisely because of their authenticity and the natural charm of their performances.

Photo: Celebrating success at the Italian cultural centre

I have to confess that when I booked the post concert meal in town I looked for a restaurant that was close to the group’s hotel, offered good value, served meals until late and accepted a group booking for a Saturday night. There really are not many establishments which meet all the criteria, and the group from Milan ended up celebrating at an Italian restaurant!
You might understand why it has taken me so long to get around to writing about the SJH school visit when you take a look at other posts I have been adding recently which include accounts of visits to Madrid which I have helped to arrange, including schools from several states of the USA and the United Kingdom, including the La Jolla Country Day School from California, King's School in Canterbury and Folkestra, from the Sage Gateshead 

Yes, I just checked, and the group from Sir James Henderson School, Milan, came to Madrid in 2008. It is a credit to them that the visit is still fresh in my mind, and I hope it is in their minds too.

Thank you Martin and all your team for a great set of concerts.

Thursday 1 March 2012

La Jolla Country Day School Choir in Madrid

Even before this choir arrived in Madrid I knew they were going to be wonderful: even so I was overwhelmed by their good nature, willingness to join in so many activities, and their ability to adapt to the circumstances. In the end, this is all due to their excellent all round education at La Jolla Country Day School and especially to their musical preparation by choral director Jennifer Boyum. 

Photo: the choir in California before the Madrid trip
I had been fortunate to enjoy the generous hospitality of colleagues, administrators and parents of the La Jolla Country Day School in Spring 2009. I went to California with a small group of high school students who were what turned out to be the last cohort of a successful homestay exchange programme.  They were given the most amazing time, not only seeing the top spots in nearby San Diego, such as Sea World, the old town and the aircraft carrier museum, but also enjoying day trips to Los Angeles, not forgetting Beverly Hills and Universal Studios. In the end it was not the spectacular and the grandiose aspects of life in La Jolla that won the hearts of my students, it was the warmth and kindness of their host students and their families. 

The success of this homestay exchange was due largely to the inspiration of two sisters, working half a world apart, who created an opportunity for their respective students to see the world through a different lens: a special initiative by two very special persons. I know all the students who have been involved over the years are enormously grateful to them for their investment of skill, time and energy which made the exchange such a great venture.
While I was in La Jolla I sat in one of Jennifer’s rehearsals and it was a joy to see her students racing through a series of songs for an upcoming Burn´s Night performance. A combination of efficiency and attention to musical detail made the choir an outstanding group of performers.
We talked about a music exchange and I am so glad that at least one side of the plan did come to fruition, so that Jennifer arrived in Madrid with her 32 students in January 2010. There were 20 girls and 12 boys, and the singers included a significant number of senior students who had gathered considerable performing experience over the years, and this showed in their excellent performances.
During their week long stay they performed at a range of situations, from the most informal to the very formal, in venues that ranged from a less than 5 year old Elementary school to a 500 year old monastery.
As was our custom we invited the visitors to sing for our very youngest children, and they listened attentively to a short selection of songs and there was an evening concert at for 150 students, aged 14 to 18, who come to the school in the evenings to study English. We had asked the visitors to prepare a few words about life in California, their daily school routine and their plans for university and their audience were spellbound as they listened to their contemporaries from across the ocean. They had thought carefully about what to say, and their presentation and delivery were exemplary, and much appreciated by the local staff and their students.

 Photo: a day in the Madrid school
I have written in an earlier post about a concert given by the Madrigalia Choir from the King’s School from Canterbury at the chapel of the St Thomas monastery in Ávila. It was a great pleasure to be able to arrange a similar concert for the LJCDS singers. Without a doubt it is true that the young Californian singers have never experienced singing in such a venue, and the magnificence of the centuries old chapel, more like a cathedral in its dimensions, brought out their very best performance. In a moving closing message, the Abbot encouraged us all to continue bringing together persons from different countries, origins and ages, as we had been able to do on this occasion, and he expressed the appreciation of the large and knowledgeable audience.

 Photo: arriving at the St Thomas Monastery in Avila
It was at this concert that the full emotional power of the Jennifer Boyum’s musical selection was most evident. The title for the concert was Music with a message: Memory, Peace and Hope, and in her introduction to the printed programme, Jennifer wrote the following:
“I have always been fascinated with how music and history intermingle. Just as a barometer forecast trends in weather, music gives us insight into current and future social attitudes. Music provides a catalyst for healing for those in pain, allows us to speak out against injustice, gives a voice to those who are lost but not forgotten, and permits us to hope for a better tomorrow. Music may not always be “pretty”, warm or pleasing to the ear, but it allows us to express what mere words cannot.”
The Memory section opened with In Remembrance by Eleanor Daley, followed by In Flanders Field in an arrangement by Emerson and Jacobson, When I am Silent by J Varner, and In Remembrance by Jeffrey Ames. The Peace section was sung to texts from the Song of Solomon and St Francis of Assisi in settings by David Childs and Jody Lindh, Set me as a seal upon your heart and Lord make me an instrument of thy peace.  The Hope section included Inscription of Hope by Z Randall Stroope, Stand Together by Papoulis and Prayer for the Children by K Bestor.
The beautiful music, wonderful singing combined with the audience’s empathy and the historic setting to make this a powerfully moving performance, one to remember for a long time to come.
A surprise performance opportunity arose during the week, as my school’s own Christmas concert, due to be held in December, had been postponed due to snow, and the alternative date was chosen at short notice and made it possible for the Country Day choir to take part. It was a great privilege to hear the choir again, this time in a 1990’s church building which is the local parish church, and which has a starkly beautiful architecture with a favourable acoustic for choral singing. The visitors knocked us all out when they appeared in their immaculate evening suits, and they left an indelible impression. 

 Photo: formal dress at the local parish church in Madrid

They have also left a legacy at the school, as the  current choral singing programme came into being in response to the impact made by the Country Day choir, as they showed how much high quality work can be achieved when the right programme is put in place and properly resourced.
Thank you to all the wonderful singers and your chaperones for an unforgettable week. I hope you will all forgive me for taking so long to put these thoughts in order. Thank you most of all to Jennifer Boyum, an extraordinarily gifted musician and choir trainer. Hope to welcome you all somewhere, soon.     

La Jolla Country Day School Concert Choir
Director (2010): Jennifer Boyum

Ryan Hastings-Echo    
David Farley                
Daniel Stein
J.J. Jaurez-Uribe                       
Blake Mohseni             
Mac Anderson
Hunter Higgins            
Guito Olortegui                       
Joel Juarez-Uribe
Teagan Boyd               
Junior Togiaso        
 Ian Han
Joelle Juarez-Uribe       
Jodi Morris                 
Rachel Atkins
Alexandra Trifunovic   
Lauren Torres             
Stephanie Niefeld
Megan Arnold             
Annalisa Race              
Danielle Schwartz
Leah Schoenfeld                      
Adrienne Krichman     
Laura Grossman
Lydia Khorsandian      
Kimberly Roesler         
Laura Morgan
Yuvi Anchondo                       
Hannah Cobb             
Sarah Upson
Danielle Poitker            
Zoey Turek                  

(I have amended this post on 3 March to include photos and the choir names, with permission from  LJCDS )