William Cosby's Blog -- Then and Now
Ryan is the newest addition to the family (I will be posting some pics on the accordions page in a few). He is a very late Giulietti Super stradella custom made for Mort Herold; one of this country's all-time greatest accordionists. Mort was a key person in the development of the Giulietti bassetti and some of the late bassetti tonal characteristics I have written about in this blog were built into this accordion - to include a left hand with a low G with a reed and case design that is akin (especially in the balance and power in the lower octave) to the raised block, big box bassettis. But more on that later. Today's clip is Liszt's Mephisto Waltz arranged by Galla-Rini. (Mort and Galla-Rini were good friends.) I am sure Mort's performance of Mephisto Waltz in the mid-50's was a first. Hopefully I will be able to post the videos from these clips in the near future. Enjoy.
I am leaving Brazilian Carnival up for one more day, but adding a mystery clip for today (part of a project I did in 1991-1992). Regular readers of the blog will understand the connection and how this ties to my accordion experience. A couple of heretofore tidbits (things I have not told before) might happen tomorrow.
Regular readers of the blog will know General Bill as a 1938 Rocker Switch Excelsior that was a prized possession of General William Knowlton. It accompanied him during his cadet years at West Point and throughout the world during his esteemed military and civilian careers. General Knowlton was the Superintendent of the United States Military Academy when I arrived there in 1969 and swore me in as a 2nd Lieutenant in 1973. There is more information on General Bill on the Accordions Page of the website.
I was reviewing the blog last night in preparation to continue work on the index. In total, between Anecdotes and Saved Rounds there are over 500 pages and 229,396 words. The writing encompases a period of nearly three years - roughly in parallel with the time since I started to play again.
Anyway, I have told my stories - some of them more than once. Some friends from the past have contacted me as a result of all this, often calling attention to adventures I had forgotten. That has been a delight. The internet provides the opportunity for people to search for names that are often all but forgotten, and from the website statistics and the occasional Email, there may be some references that might be of personal value or interest completely outside the original intent of this blog.
My middle brother was a natural athlete, as was my father. Give them almost anything physical, and they could typically do it. When Phil decided he wanted to surf he was standing on the board the first or second day. When my Dad and I rented a pair of jet skis (the original Kawasaki stand-up kind), he was standing and able to steer almost immediately, while each of my attempts ended up in rather spectacular face plants into the lake. My Dad was in his 70's at the time.
My oldest brother and I did not have that same level of physical talent. It took longer to learn to do something. My Dad used to say that learning things too easily could be a curse, as one may not stay with something long enough to get really good at it or they would just become bored. Edith Oppens remarked several times in my lessons that her daughter, Ursula Oppens, learned at an extremely accelerated pace, and that it could be difficult as her learning pace was so fast she was not forced to grow with the music (today Ursula is one of the country's premier concert pianists, specializing in contemporary repertoire that few could even attempt).
I was not a natural when I started accordion. It took time and a lot of work to develop a technique. There were those around me who learned much more quickly. But once I had something, I generally retained it.
I often speak of other disciplines, art forms and otherwise, and try to show how there more carry-overs than one might think. And sometimes, when the outcome is more directly measured as a strict competence at the physical skill, it is easier to pinpoint what equals success, or measuring the influence of physical talent. For me, one of the best illustrations comes from teaching people to ride motorcycles. It is something I was heavily involved with for nearly 25 years. Also, I worked in developing and evaluating training curriculum and license testing which ultimately had established measures to measure competence at performing skills. We often started with people with no previous experience and recorded their progress through defined performance standards; in some cases, being able to pass an end-of-course evaluation or even a State license test.
Likely the most interesting situation was watching the new motorcycle rider in the MSF RiderCourse. After many years and training a lot of Instructors I came to a conclusion (this is my conclusion, not that of MSF) that person's success in a course would parallel the entry level more than personal effort or desire. It could be seen as a defined window, and I could often predict someone's final level of competence within the first few moments. Often, no level of desire or effort would bring a person with less physical skill up to the entry level of someone with a high level of skill with minimal effort or desire. The problem here was that that person who really wanted to ride a motorcycle on the street likely would do so, and often not recognize their skills were quite modest. This is where it was so critical to emphasize self-assessment and the level of risk in riding a motorcycle. But there are an infinite number of levels between the two.
Perhaps this is the same as Sam Kracmalnic telling me during my first session with him that a person could either conduct or they couldn't. All he could do was give me the tools so any ensemble, anywhere would understand what I wanted them to do. Then the rest of it became my responsibility.
So the ultimate question is what one does with the skill set, and I guess that first requires that someone understands the skill set and can self-assess where they stand. And with an instrument, the skill set is not solely measured in the number of notes someone can play and how fast they can play them. But first, they must have the skill set, and the self-assessment also helps that person understands how their skills work for them.
I would remind the reader that this blog is a series of my stories and my experience. It is certainly not for everyone - I am sure some will think all this is absurdly pretentious and others will not see a purpose for it. However, what I find interesting is that many of the blog readers who are not accordionists (they are professional non-accordionist musicians, dancers, motorcycle professionals, and athletes) often find these concepts 'intuitive to all but the most casual observer.' Many of these concepts are integral to their areas - 'givens' if you will: sometimes so much so that they can't see why I find it so necessary to discuss them. And they are essential, either for survival, or to reach artist goals.
All this came into focus this morning as I was watching the DVD, Dancing for Mr. B., where Maria Tallchief (one of the greatest and most successful ballarinas of all time) tells of Balanchine saying to her, "if you could only learn to do battement tondu correctly, that is all you would have to know". In my opinion, that is the concept and level of discipline we need to bring to accordion.
While working with a young accordionist yesterday I found myself talking about balance of the hands, both left and right. In my years of accordion study I don't know if I remember ever having one of my teachers use this specific word, or for that matter, addressing the concept as a subject.
Some of my topics and words I have coined to describe them, are compilations of experience, accordion and otherwise. Some are also colored with a particular bias - which is also a culmination of experience, accordion or otherwise. Two that immediately come to mind are honking and tinka-tinka-plink-plink. Simple summary definitions of these would be (for honking) less-than-flattering tone production worsened with overplaying the instrument, and (tinka-tinka-plink-plink) using the instrument like a typewriter with little or no attention or understanding of musical purpose or intent. Think of how your notation program will create a hearing of the notes you have entered completely devoid of any passion, or for that matter, devoid of any artistry. Give a monkey an accordion and eventually he will play all the notes of Konzertstuck: perhaps an (infinite) way to describe a failure to achieve anything resembling musicianship.
But the concept of balance is more serious than tinka-tinka; and is certainly something one can achieve. Edith used to spend enormous amounts of time describing how to sit at the piano as she said it had an enormous influence on how you produce tone. Hovered over the keyboard and it stays inside the instrument. Sitting upright the sound from the instrument fills the room, perhaps even to be seen as a parallel to good vocal technique (though she never used that comparison). Similarly, Sam spoke at length on body position on the podium.
When I was starting to relearn stradella after a 40 year absence I found it most useful to study the fingering and hand positions Galla-Rini used in his more complex arrangements and transcriptions. At first these would not seem intuitive - but I quickly started to comprehend what he was doing. He achieved a balance of the left hand; often with the additional benefit of minimizing the necessary shifts of the hand which assists in bellowing. The hand remains in a more natural position with less shifting, twisting, and crossing of the fingers. The hand feels balanced, and when this happens everything else seems to work better. It also quickly starts to feel 'right'. What would seem to be dangerous technical situations have workable resolutions.
With further introspection, I have long known that the same thing happens in the bassetti and the right hand. This drives the system of fingering, and it also drove the desirability to have the bassetti buttons distanced away from the left hand strap - as Julio did in the all-bassetti instruments. We used to tell Julio that you needed to 'use the hand' on the bassetti - possibly even more critical than with the right hand in that you typically don't use the thumb. I am always curious about relying strictly on finger dexterity when playing a converter, where the buttons are all the way out against the left hand strap. Does this ultimately impact what can be safely done with the left hand or limit the technical capabilities? And given the characteristics of much of the current playing, has the repertoire and playing style been influenced by this situation (I have often spoke of using the converter free bass as a chromatic stradella)? There have seen several occasions where young converter players have remarked at the left-hand capabilities of some of the older 6/3 or 5/4 players. "How do they do that?" Another aspect I consider overlooked is the potential level of resistance in the converter buttons. On most of them I have played the action is extremely light, and I have been told by manufacturers (who actually show no real interest) there is no way to increase this tension due to the design of the complex converter mechanism.
Now the important question becomes, does any of this really matter, or could it have any influence whatsoever on the future of such instruments? What has evolved has resulted in certain realities; like the over-presence of the bottom octave in the newer instruments.
Years ago Julio spoke of the characteristics of the Russian instruments - decades before most of us ever heard one, let alone played one. He spoke of the power in the left hand and based on the evolution of his instruments (I have a representation of nearly all of them) he worked to get more power. But there is a difference in what he did. First was his concern for overall size. My 6/3 is rather large, but much smaller than a converter. And he worked on the lower range - but kept the balance. So in this case it is both musical and technical balance.
But back to balance of the hands, I feel it is also extremely critical in the right hand; not only for fast passages where there is a desirability to equalize the God-given strength in the individual fingers (Tzerko concept), but also in assisting in tone production in lyrical sections. And in my opinion, this balance will provide a much more musical solution than any amount of choreography (which unfortunately is often aimed at solving the same musical challenge).
Hopefully when I get the video part of the studio up and running I can address this more. When I was working with the young accordionist yesterday I could show him and he immediately understood and could apply what would work for him to his playing.
I have many scattered thoughts this morning; perhaps I can relate some of them to accordion.
West Point's Cullum Hall was constructed in the late 1800s as a memorial dedicated to the officers and graduates of the U.S. Military Academy. When I arrived at West Point in 1969 it was the location for Saturday night Plebe Hops. There remained only one USMA Band 17-piece dance orchestra and their performances were pretty much limited to formal events. It was an age of rock bands and the era of the DJ was yet to arrive. To me, the rich decorations of Cullum seemed weirdly out of place when the rock bands cranked up.
At that time (I don't know if it carries to the present day), there was something called Plebe knowledge; all kinds of interesting facts new cadets had to know. And one of those facts was the number of lights in Cullum Hall - 340 to be exact.
What is most bizarre in my thoughts this morning is my increasing fascination with the number of LED lights throughout my home. They are on everything from the air freshener to the dehumidifier. The prize goes to FIOS for the most lights. With the cable modem, DVR, Internet Modem, Router, and who knows what else, there is a nonstop bevy of flickering lights. There are lights when the device is on, but just as often lights when it is off. There is certainly no need for night lights; the real challenge would be to actually get the room totally dark. Some day I would like to actually inventory and count all the lights in the house; then compare it with some of my friends.
Then there is the constant sound. Heating, air conditioning, devices, even buzzing from light rheostats. I can still feel the absolute silence at night when we would go to the Redwoods on our camping trips in the 1950s. It was also really dark as the tall trees blocked whatever moonlight there might be. But even in the house, night time was nearly silent. And it was dark.
It seems that in most places you go, the overall level of sound has increased. Disneyland was once a stickler on how loud a band could play in Tomorrowland. The last time I was at one of the parks I had to put in my ear plus on several occasions (I almost always carry a pair). It is hard for a musical review of Lion King to compete with a nearby rollercoaster without getting really loud.
As a result of Aunt Wanda's recent quilting party, my practice room is now much quieter than before. And even though it is acoustically dead and I don't personally crave playing in dead rooms, I must say there is something enjoyable about playing in the room. I recall trying to play in the practice rooms at college. Even though they were supposedly sound proofed, you could always hear an assortment of other people in other rooms. I had many friends who could buckle down and concentrate, but I always found it difficult to accomplish much.
So for me, the higher level of silence is a true joy. However, I have friends who thrive more in the midst of various levels of chaos. By themselves they have a hard time doing anything.
I often write about concentration, paying attention to what we are doing and listening to what we are playing. I think one of the most challenging things an aspiring young musician must learn is concentration; both level and length. Sometimes if I stumble on a passage of a piece I can't remember (I almost never practice with music), I will think of something else and repeat the section on motor memory; just let the body take over. But for me that is a cop-out - less effort than digging out the score.
The measure of preparation is full concentration for the duration. Knowing every note, every finger, every detail, all of it. Being able to start at any place and being able to put it together in combinations of non-symmetrical patterns. For me you need to reach that point before you can 'hear' the music in your head and realize with no or little conscious attention to the physical requirements. And for me, the ideal pallet for learning those skills is freedom from distraction.
As I promised, the blog is likely to get shorter as I become more involved in making music. I am still in the ramp-up phase of my recording project and hopefully will have some things to share on the website soon. However, I am sure you realize 'soon' can be somewhat relative.
The big decision now is on finalizing the room and what direction to go on microphones and preamps for recording the accordion. I know the sound I would like to achieve.
When I was very young, my Dad would bring home GSA catalogues for Ampex and I would imagine my ultimate recording set-up. My dream in the 1950s was an Ampex 601-2 with the 620 monitor speakers. I could imagine them in a control room with a couple microphones for the accordion. That never happened. It was just too expensive, though I had the opportunity to try a mono 601 at home for a few days, and it was impressive.
Many years later I had several Ampex 601-2 machines, mainly as a curiosity as by this time I had several of the full-size Ampex recorder/reproducers. Through the years working with recording engineers like Armin Steiner Alan Emig, Bill Lazerus, and some real talented folks at Bearsville I learned a lot. The Accordion Masterworks Albums, Music Emporium and the Gregory Stone Albums were done in commercial studios. And though I took nearly a year to do a room sound design for the studio in my first home in Cornwall, and some of my ideas (like bass traps) worked too well.
Today's technology has opened some great possibilities, but possibilities need to be tempered with taste. I have always liked a very hot sound, but getting that sound without resembling a badly amplified accordion is a challenge (sort of a loose parallel to my constant references to Bach sounding like bad Brahms). My desired outcome would be what Armin Steiner and Alan Emig achieved, and this was in drastically different studios with completely different acoustics and configurations. They could listen to the instrument and know what to do to make it sound right in the given room. There was an absolute minimum of any EQ or effects. My starting point always involves listening to one of their recordings. I would also say that likely the personal recordings I liked best were usually the simplest. Often 'direct to two' of live performances.
So it is again time to play (both the instrument and whatever equipment I ultimately employ).
I feel like have started into the second stage of my ramp-up into my new recording project. First was to get it up and running and do some initial live tracks. Now I have started to transfer and transform some of my previous work to the new system. This forces me to adapt what I know to the new system, and also makes me realize some of the details I have forgotten from old projects. Revisiting what were some rather complex, at least for me, technical challenges and recalling the process I used to reach a solution is helping more than confusing. It should all fit together in a synergy. Eventually.
Some years ago when I was starting my life as a motorcycle train-the-trainer, I attended the Motorcycle Safety Foundation's Chief Instructor Course. At that time MSF had migrated from the original Motorcycle RiderCourse to the new Motorcycle RiderCourse:Riding and Street Skills. I was one of the few people who had very little knowledge of the earlier course. My elapsed time from becoming an Instructor to becoming a Chief Instructor was less than two years. This was unheard of. Most had been Instructors for at least five or even ten years before applying for the CI Course.
The CI Course of the day was extremely difficult. The pre-course work was immense and the attrition rate, if you made it to the first day, was extremely high. It was brutal; physically, intellectually, and emotionally. Similar to my Army experience with firing a weapon, my roommate was the guy with all the previous experience. He was constantly saying, "well this would have been this way with the old course", and I would question him on why it would make a difference? And to the purpose of finishing the course, his knowledge, or more accurately, his inability to ignore the knowledge, made it seemingly more frustrating for him than for me. They said to do something 'this way', and I did.
A few years later I ended up working at the MSF National Resource Office and one of my assignments was to track all the changes in the curriculum standards for rider training through the various iterations of the courses; all in preparation for a totally new course. But by now, I could stand back and look at the larger picture - a sequence of transition over a period of nearly 20 years. As I worked on this project the logic for many things became clear; and one of my goals was to determine which made sense and which didn't. Which had measurable value and which didn't. And how they had come to pass. It was now time to evaluate and compare.
I think a similar thing will happen as a person learns a new skill or craft. Adult learning shows that it is sometimes better to pick up the entire task first, then go back and fill in details. When I work with someone as a music coach, I will often just suggest they do or try something - especially if they are younger, either in age or in skill. Then when the time is appropriate, I will fill in details. The reverse process, explaining how something works and why we need to do it in a certain way might work or even be a better choice under certain circumstances (especially if the risk level is high), but knowing that difference is where a teacher comes in. For me, the less I say, the better.
Then the bigger big picture comes into play. Putting it all together with other life experiences. In my opinion, this is what separates the true craftsman or artist. However, realize that being the consummate craftsman or artist in a given task might not be a reasonable or desirable goal. And again, that is where a mentor can play a valuable role; helping establish an effective system of self-assessment.
I have spent the last several days doing some test takes with the new rig; trying different combinations of mics and placement. My goal is to keep it simple and repeatable. Bottom line, I think few people realize how difficult it is to record the accordion. But it is likely that every musician says that about their particular instrument.
I have been playing with a few thoughts in my head. When we first hear our recorded our voice it sounds strange when it is coming from speakers rather than our own head. As part of the vocal recording process it is often necessary to relearn what it sounds like when it is recorded.
The accordion sounds different when we are playing it, in my opinion much more than a piano. The stereo effect is certainly much more pronounced. There might be some fun things to explore here, like if you could recreate what it feels like when you are playing a silver wheel Super or black wheel 6/3.
I was originally disappointed that there were not more sound libraries in ProTools; then last night I discovered where they are located. Whew! When you consider everything that is packed into that software package, it is quite a value.
So at this point, I would say it should be a long time before I get bored. Only thing I have to worry about now is CBP - the natural successor to PPB and APB.
I did my first recording in the new quilt room yesterday. I had several false starts as it took a while to figure out the routing system - and the realization that there were things I still needed to configure in the setup. In the early PC days very little was intuitive; some said to the point of creating a 'right of passage' for would-be users. Then, as the PC became more popular, tasks started getting intuitive.
I literally started with MS Word Version 1. I remember a review where it said if a person started with MS Word vs. Word Perfect it would make sense, but the transition would be more difficult for the Word Perfect person. There was a ramp-up to MS Word if you really wanted to use it as a word processor vs. a typewriter with a screen (which you could also do) - and you literally had to do almost everything. You had to understand the difference between hard and soft formatting, and if you wanted to use style sheets, you had to create them yourself. It was a rather involved process. But in the office environment, the payback was worth the effort.
The as the program evolved, eventually into Word for Windows, it became more intuitive. And even more intuitive. Eventually it became intuitive to the point that it could be very difficult to figure out how to turn something off when the computer program knew less about what you wanted than you did. The other thing was the rearrangement of menus. It seemed that every new version of Windows or any of the Office programs took some form of hidden glee in hiding menu items; which you usually discovered when you were on a tight deadline and needed to finish something.
On accordion I started with a 12 bass, then progressed to a 120 bass and eventually a bassetti. But with the decision to convert to an all-digital recording process, and the desire to stay with the industry standard, it is more involved. When you crack the door you are faced with a huge program - and as you move forward you discover that it is even more powerful than you originally thought.
But that is the same when you are progressing through acoustic instruments, at least when you are still in the learning process. At first, you are impressed, if not overwhelmed. But as the artistry develops, you comprehend the complete potential, and can take that instrument to that potential almost immediately. It might only take a few notes or a short part of a piece. Then it is about making music on that instrument within it’s capabilities and using its unique characteristics. Then the instrument becomes a tool rather than a curiosity.
And I believe the same thing happens with computer programs. When you get over being amazed and overwhelmed, you can concentrate on the task for which the program is designed. I have some friends that can do this with a computer program as quickly as I can do it with an accordion. They understand how computers work - the logic and processes are in their skill set. And that should be the goal of the accordionist. To understand how to use the instrument to produce music. It all sounds logical and simple, but application is a lifelong challenge - probably more so for an instrument than a machine. And perhaps that also defines the difference between an instrument and a machine.
Last night we spent the evening with National Ballet of Canada's production of Adventures of Alice in Wonderland. I spoke at length yesterday of contemporary works and audience acceptance, and exploring new ways within established art forms that could have an appeal for an increased audiences. Based on the nearly spontaneous standing ovation from the capacity crowd at the end of last night's performance, I would say that NBC was certainly on target.
Ten performances of a single work in the Kennedy Center Opera House is a big undertaking. And the Adventures of Alice in Wonderland has every aspects of a major show: sets, costumes, scenic design, sound design, music, multi-media, cast - what else can I include? It would hate to even estimate what such an show would cost to produce and stage. I would say, however, that it unlikely that your local ballet studio or even regional company will be able to undertake it in anything close to the original concept.
There were moments last night when my mind drifted to other major shows - some when technology was evolving, and others more recent. Todd Rundgren's tour with the Sphinx and pyramid first came to mind. Resplendent with lasers and all kinds of special effects, he took the theatrical rock concert to new heights. Then a few years later there was Cher's Farewell concert (which we have on DVD). Costumes, entrances on huge elephants, an immersive catalogue of music, dancers, what else could you imagine?
It is curious how this was in such contrast to much of the (musical) mentality of the 1960s, where much was anti-capitalist. A person could have enormous success with a less than stellar voice, Grateful Dead could encourage sharing personal recordings of their performances. And one could feel like a family member at a performance of Quicksilver or (one of my all-time favorite groups) Love.
So the pendulum swings and it is diverse. And though my warped sense of humor may sound cynical or even caustic at times, I consider it all perfect. I also enjoy an exceptionally wide variety of it, especially when I can experience it in the intended environment.
And when I speak of the accordion, its institutions, players, instruments, or even repertoire, what I am hoping to do is encourage young people interested in the instrument to look beyond the accordion to life itself. To know what is happening in the rest of the world around them. I might try to reach them through shock or sometimes through humor. But I encourage them to explore. I do not pretend to have any answers of how the future of the accordion will unfold. It is becoming their world and those are their answers.
Sometime before I retired I was speaking with a co-worker who happened to have a PhD and the topic came to philosophy. I had a philosophy minor in college and he made the comment that philosophy was the most useless of all disciplines; after all what were you going to do, stand around on park benches and argue? In the collection of Bill's lists there is one for the stupidest things I have ever heard and this certainly qualifies for the shortest of the short lists. To me, the study of philosophy was the most critical of all my experiences in college, as it taught me to understand value systems and also understand how thought processes evolve through time and civilizations. The most important part is understanding how value systems are impacted by limitations of their application in the real world. And most value systems are challenged by the biases placed on them, either through application or interpretation.
So my question today is what am I going to call dispensable art. Is there such a thing? What qualifies? So many things in our lives today are outdated before we either learn how to use them. But some of these have great value at the given time. People can make enormous money with them. And the next question, what about the throw-away art of yesteryear? And how do we apply our value systems on those?
Do we create for future generations, or do we create for now and let history decide what happens. Or is it a combinaton of both?
NBC is a world-class act!!!
Woke this morning to a snow shower. Combined with the cold weather over the past several days nature may be providing a solution to the tic infestation we had last year.
We are going to see National Ballet of Canada's production of Alice in Wonderland tonight at the Kennedy Center. The reviews have been strong, and it is interesting to watch how a presentation of a new work unfolds and also how it is received. I also think it is something that should be of special interest to accordionists with an interest in increasing the acceptance of the instrument in a non-ethnic or non-popular environment.
Several weeks ago Jim and I were watching an extended presentation about the ongoing artistic and professional operation and structure of Paris Opera Ballet. Ballet has a core repertoire and as much tradition as any art form, but there is interest in keeping it alive with new works and endeavors, something considered critical for both the audience and the dancer. How do you bring in new audiences? How do you keep dancers engaged?
The company has historically produced contemporary works; in terms of music, technique, and presentation. But at the meeting in the video presentation, they discussed that the new works typically did not bring in as many new audience members as they would like, and very few were in their target of younger people. So their intent was good, and though it may be artistically successful, it might not be self-supporting.
In my opinion, there is another category to a new work. And it is likely that this is where Alice in Wonderland fits (though I will hold judgment until I see it). This category would include works like Mathew Bourne’s Swan Lake. These are productions that unfold and can be marketed more like musical theatre than the traditional story ballet. It can sustain extended performances, even on Broadway. Jim was in a production with Virginia Ballet Theatre of Dracula which also fit in this category.
So the question becomes, is it possible that these productions will build interest in an art form to where people will want to see more, even to explore the classics or other new works? Did new audiences who went to see their favorite popular singer in Pirates of Penzance on Broadway decide they might be interested in going to see Gotterdamerung or Falstaff? Did audiences who happened upon Bourne's Swan Lake wonder what the traditional production might be like and buy a ticket to see ABT?
I talk a lot about ballet but the situation is not that different in other classical art forms. I have heard it said that when Boulez became conductor of NY Philharmonic, part of the intent was to bring a wider range of contemporary music (I cannot attest to the accuracy of this statement - so if this is innacurate, please point it out).
There are examples of music directors & program managers including new works even though they know they will lose money - because they feel it is something that should be done. When Bill Yost was the Director for the Fine Arts Program at West Point he scheduled programs that he knew would not make money, because he thought they should be there for the people that might attend. And when you are making a good profit on your program and have the support of your underwriters you can do that.
So what about the accordion? Unlike a symphony or ballet we don't have a inherent catalogue of music that would be attractive to a generic concert-goer. But I am possibly in the minority when I would say that we have the ability to perform certain parts of repertoire from other genres that are acceptable to the would-be supporter of 'classical' music - and there is even a heritage that too often we shun.
I mentioned transcription yesterday, and I think it is a concept that is grossly misunderstood by too many would-be legitimate accordionists, or more accurately by people posing as promoters of the accordion through associations or otherwise. First, a transcription can support or even transcend an original work - retain or even enhance the original musical intent. What if someone were to shun Ravel for orchestrating Le Tombeau the Couperin? An absurd thought. Second, a transcription can be used to demonstrate capabilities of an instrument beyond or in a different way than what original compositions might do. Liszt certainly did this. And thankfully more recent critics have become appreciative of the value of his transcriptions, both in terms of the piano’s capabilities and in terms of a renewed realization of the original work. They might even be considered a treatise on effectiveness in transcriptions.
One part of me thought that the musical requirements for the International Galla-Rini Competition were pretentious and ridiculous. They removed too much responsibility for knowledge of the instrument or what an individual can or should play from both the judge and performer. Galla-Rini explored a wide variety of musical styles on accordion and wrote both original works and transcriptions. Some of it was successful, some was not. Why not structure the competition the same way. Let the performer decide what to play, and then judge him or her on whether it is effective or not? That would certainly be much more true to his legacy than saying none of the music he wrote would qualify for the competition.
When I competed in the Sinatra Musical Performance Competitions (the only accordionist to ever do so) I played a mixture of original compositions and transcriptions. There were no guidelines other than length of the first presentation. They liked the Liszt Rhapsody. The liked the Ibert. They did NOT like the Chopin Etude. But the comments weren't about the piece or even how I played it; they didn't think it was a good musical selection as I didn’t make it work on the instrument. That was a life lesson for me. I need to know what I really shouldn't play. But the other part of that lesson - I need to be comfortable in what I can play. If Zubin Meta didn’t have a problem with the Liszt transcription, why should I be concerned when an accordionist does? If Leonard Bernstein put Stephen Dominko on stage with NY Phil doing a movement from a Chopin Concerto, why should he be concerned when an accordionist tells him he shouldn't play that? Is he 'setting the accordion back' (their words) or are they? And Bernstein even explained the purpose and value of a transcription to the audience.
So I encourage young players to develop a sense of self-assessment. I also encourage them to become familiar with a musical world larger than the accordion - all parts of it. Some of them might listen to me, and I know that others consider me an old fart.
I think it is great they know the accordion repertoire and have an appreciation for contemporary music. But they should also know what sustains the rest of the music world - and perhaps how they or the accordion can fit into it.