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Super Bowl Whining?

The following thoughts were posted by violist-composer Kenji Bunch on his Facebook page this morning. They were written in response to his timeline full of classical musicians complaining about the Super Bowl 50 halftime show. I think that what Kenji says is right on point.

For my classical friends who were disappointed/offended/alienated/etc. by Coldplay’s show yesterday, specifically the way the YOLA students were incorporated into it, here are a few thoughts:

1. Commercial music and musicians are with us, not against us. Composers’ royalties are subsidized by their revenue, orchestral seasons are aided by Pops ticket sales, film scores remain an important entry point for many people into our little world. Though their training and techniques may differ from us, musicians working in this field usually like, respect, and admire us “serious” musicians. Why then, do we self-servingly anticipate “classical music’s big moment” at the Super Bowl only to deride the band that graciously created the opportunity and bemoan their misuse of the great maestro Dudamel? Just as we snarkily complain about Taylor Swift’s lack of “real” musical talent, until she donates thousands of dollars to our orchestras. It’s like we want to have our cake and refuse to eat it because we’re gluten free, too.

2. You don’t own your instrument. I mean, of course you probably do own the particular one you use professionally, but my point is this: you represent merely a brief moment in time within the lifespan of your instrument and for the continuum of history in which it travels. You’ve no doubt worked hard for a long time and made many sacrifices for the study of your craft- I have, too- no one denies that. And if you choose to dress up like a footman from Downton Abbey, sit down and read sheet music on a stand when you perform, and include your audience in the experience only by standing up to acknowledge them at the end of said performance when you allow them to applaud your work, that’s fine.

But if a group of young, colorfully outfitted Latino musicians play those same instruments while smiling, dancing, and perform a memorized version of a soaringly orchestrated pop song for millions of viewers worldwide, it’s also fine, and it’s also classical music. And it’s also quite possible they’ve just done more in a few minutes for the future of your instrument than many of us will ever do in our lifetimes.

Are jealousy and bitterness the best way to respond to this notion, or could it be possible that we should simply thank these beautiful kids and the folks who gave them this platform? I dunno.

concert preview the orchestra world youth orchestras

pyp presents adventurous, enviable program on saturday

Being a member of the Oregon Symphony, while being, essentially, a job, is often a joy as well. I get to play some of the greatest music ever written with my amazing colleagues. We have a wonderfully musical music director, and a hard working staff, without whom we would not be able to share our music with the public. But, every so often, I look at a program by our young colleagues at the Portland Youth Philharmonic (PYP), and I feel a trace of envy.


A youth orchestra has members that pay to be in the orchestra, instead of the other way around. They have auditions every year to essentially recreate the entire orchestra – if you need eight horns, you admit eight horn players, and there you have it. You don’t need to hire extras, like we at the OSO do. So, it’s not exactly an apples-to-apples comparison. However, the program that PYP is doing this coming weekend is causing me some serious envy. Why? Well, I’ll tell you.


First of all, they’re doing an overture by Oregon composer Kevin Walczyk, whose music has been performed by the OSO in the past (in fact, this work was commissioned by the Oregon Symphony to celebrate the beginning of music director Carlos Kalmar’s first season as music director), and is always lovely to listen to, and exceedingly well-crafted. Plus, performing works by Oregonians is just plain cool.


Next, they have a freakin’ viola soloist! Yes! Viola power! PYP Concerto Competition winner Samuel Zacharia is playing the Bartók Viola Concerto, which was last played with PYP by a former student of mine, Caitlin Lynch, shortly after the cooling of the Earth’s crust. It’s a wonderful showpiece for the Cinderella of stringed instruments, and Samuel is sure to knock the performance out of the proverbial park.

Finally: Shosty Four. Shostakovich’s sprawling, seething, erupting, and exploding masterpiece is getting its first Portland performance in nearly 30 years. Ooh, I am so jealous of my PYP friends! I have performed this symphony once, when I was at the Peabody Conservatory, and it was an incredible experience. It calls for massive orchestral forces – which means that it costs a lot of money for a professional orchestra to program – and at just over an hour in length, it’s a huge piece in terms of time as well.

In short: this concert is not to be missed!

March 1, 2014 – Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall, 7:30 p.m.
WALCZYK: Celebration Fanfare
BARTOK: Concerto for Viola
Samuel Zacharia, Viola, PYP Concerto Competition Winner
SHOSTAKOVICH: Symphony No. 4

fun video youth orchestras

these kids today

I got a link to this video in my in-box today, and it made me smile more than a little bit. It features the varied talents of the members of the Youth Orchestra of San Antonio, which is led with style and expertise by my long-time friend, Troy Peters (who is YOSA’s music director & conductor).

Here’s the description that goes along with the video:

On June 17, 2012, Youth Orchestras of San Antonio (YOSA) made a stop at the George Bush Intercontinental Airport on their way to London. During their layover, they rocked a Pop-Up Orchestra. This is their cover of Gotye’s “Somebody That I Used to Know”…shot in one shot, walking through the airport. Stop and feel the music.

The mission of Youth Orchestras of San Antonio, the premier orchestral experience for youth citywide, is to enhance education, enrich the community and transform lives by pursuing excellence in classical music in a stimulating, nurturing and fun environment that is equally accessible to all youth. Find out more about them at