Wednesday, August 26, 2009

10,000 Hours of Mozart

There's a theory -- first put forward by Malcolm Gladwell -- that it takes about 10,000 hours to achieve superstar status. Seth Godin (among others) disputes that. After all, as he points out in Seth Godin's Blog, there are plenty of musicians toiling away day after day who never reach more than mediocrity.

I was thinking about this in conjunction with the newly discovered works by Mozart. While I don't doubt their historical importance. But I wonder if they would be considered as remarkable if they weren't written by Mozart.

Mozart certainly didn't need 10,000 hours to become a musical superstar. His natural talent held him in good stead throughout his youth.

But of all the works that he wrote, which ones are considered his best? His first piano concerto written at the age of eleven, or the ones he wrote as an adult? His first symphony composed before he reached puberty, or the "Jupiter" Symphony" written at a mature 35 years of age?

Raw talent is a huge advantage, but maybe there's something to this 10,000 hours theory after all. Because it seems to me that only after 10,000 hours (and more) of Mozart honing his craft did he produce the music lives on to this day.

- Ralph

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Scanning the Dial

I admit it. I'm a radio geek. So it's not surprising that I follow blogs and news sites that help me stay informed about all things radio.

If you're at all interested in the state of classical music on the radio, then I strongly recommend the "Scanning the Dial" blog. It's a nice blend of news, commentary and thoughtful editorials about the subject of classical music broadcasting.

The blog is maintained by Marty Ronish and Mike Jannsen, although there are occasionally other contributors. Ms. Ronish currently produces the Chicago Symphony broadcasts, and has an extensive background both in classical music and broadcasting. Mr. Jannsen is a professional writer and journalist, who has covered the public broadcasting beat (and worked in that medium).

Both bloggers are accomplished writers, and their posts are always informative and pleasurable to read.

So why should you check out "Scanning the Dial"?

I think it's important to understand what's happening in the broadcasting world, especially if you love classical music.

Personally, I think most of WTJU's listeners take our station for granted. Letting the announcers program their own shows is not common. Nor is airing classical music during morning and afternoon drive time. Nor are early music shows, or programs like "A Time For Singing," nor the Sunday opera, nor many of the other kinds of in-depth classical programming WTJU provides.

And it's becoming increasingly rare at other stations around the nation. Even if you don't subscribe to the blog, take a moment or two to scan some of the posts. I think you'll come away with a greater appreciation of how unique the programming that you receive every day from WTJU is, and how remarkable that we can contiue to provide it to you day in and day out.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Organised Noise

On "Gamut" I play a wide range of music -- which is the point of my show. As the slogan goes, it's the show that "runs the Gamut of music from the Middle Ages all the way up to the present day."

Which means I play a fair amount of contemporary music. Not necessarily "20th Century music." That moniker refers to last century's ouevre.

Occasionally, I'll get a complaint about a particular work. It's the same complaint I heard my parents level against Motown music back in the mid-1960's, the same complaint my friends level against current hip hop and rock acts, and the same that critics level against just about every composer and/or movement going back to the 14th century.

"That's not music -- that's just noise."

I have a personal definition of noise. Noise is unorganized sound. Music is organized sound.

By my definition, what people are really saying when they characterize music as noise is that they can't hear the organization.

Usually, it's because there's something outside their frame of reference. Many people at the turn of the 20th Century thought ragtime was noise because the syncopation was too far outside their experience. While dodecaphonic compositions can sound like random plinks and plunks, these works are highly organized, and tend to reveal their internal logic with repeated listening.

I'm not saying that all classical music is great. It's not. And I'm not saying all contemporary music is great. It's not, either.

But what I am saying is that when music is presented that seems to be noise, take a step back. If it's truly music, then there's some organization or structure there somewhere.

Sometimes you just have to work a little to find it.

- Ralph

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

The CATcerto - good fun, good music.

Everyone in the classical world has been talking about the CATcerto. And with good reason -- it's an interesting novelty that's a welcome break from "serious" music. Lithuanian composer Mindaugas Piečaitis took a forwarded video of Nora the cat playing the piano, and wrote an orchestral setting for it.

Most posts focus on the humorous aspects of this project that seemed a natural for YouTube. But do this: watch the video, and then play it again with the browser minimized (or your eyes closed).

As a video, it's amusing to be sure. But take away the video and you have a charming composition that's appealing in its own right.

I've received permission from Piečaitis to air the CATcerto on "Gamut," and I'll be doing so sometime in the near future. Funny, yes. But darned good music IMHO.

- Ralph