Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Top Ten Concerts of 2009

Continuing tradition, here is my list of the top ten concerts of 2009. Remember, only concerts that I attended are on the list. This is at least my fourth year doing this, though I only have the previous two years on this blog (I lost 2006 in a transfer from another blog site!) Click the following to see my top concerts of 2008 and my top concerts of 2007. While I do see my fair share of national acts, I highly recommend everyone support local acts and local venues! This is where much of the best music is made today!

10. St. Vincent, Somerville Theater - I was really looking forward to this concert. In 2008, I had tickets to their show at The Middle East in Cambridge and missed it because I was sick with a severe cold. In early 2009 they released their latest CD - Actor - and their May show at the Somerville Theater seemed the perfect opportunity to make up for 2008's loss. Unfortunately, the concert was a bit of a disappointment. So why does it come in at number ten? We'll, I really love their music and even though the concert wasn't all I'd hoped for, I still cherished the opportunity to see the amazing Annie Clark (pictured - in a photo from the Somerville show) do her thing live. She is an amazing composer, vocalist and guitarist, and I think that since the show we saw was the opening night of the tour, things weren't quite there yet. She didn't really connect with the crowd, and the band sound was a bit on the sterile side. But the musicianship was really top notch. Just disconnected from the room. I hope to have the opportunity to give them another try soon.

9. Tim Webb and Friends, The Press Room in Portsmouth - This January show was quite possibly my first show of 2009 and still lingers with me. I wrote a blog entry about the show here. The line-up of Tim, Titus Abbott, Matt Langley, Mike Effenberger and Mike Walsh (with guests Chris Klaxton and Jim Clark) was stellar - many of the area's top jazz players. There isn't enough free jazz being done around here. Unfortunately it is under appreciated in this neck of the woods.

8. Philip Glass and Friends, The Music Hall in Portsmouth - The show was a little uneven musically, but hey, it was Philip Glass. He did a great hour-long session with a group of PMAC students the afternoon of the concert (pictured), and was as kind and informative as could be. Though the new cello pieces that were on the concert are not really my thing, it was wonderful to have this 20th (and now 21st) century icon visit Portsmouth. Bravo to The Music Hall for bringing him here!

7. Bryan Killough and the Hot Club of Portland, The Portsmouth Gaslight Company - Not enough restaurants in town have live music. And those that do sometimes don't offer the top local talent. But for a several month run in 2009, you could catch Bryan Killough and his Hot Club of Portland every Friday night while enjoying a meal at the Portsmouth Gaslight Company. Unfortunately, that run came to an end in the late summer or early fall, but luckily Katie and I got the chance to catch their show several times this year. The line-up changed, depending on musician availability from week to week, but the music never failed to inspire. Whether it was Joyce Anderson on jazz violin and vocals or Charlie Jennison on soprano sax, the music was always joyous, capturing the spark of genius that Django Reinhardt left to the world. If the people at the Gaslight are reading this, please bring them back in 2010. I haven't been back since they left and I'm longing for a great dinner with their beautiful soundtrack.

6. Green Day, Boston's Banknorth Garden - This was it. The big, national, touring, spectacular that our two sons chose for their 2009 major concert outing. In 2008 we began this tradition with a trip to Manchester to see Rush. This year it was Green Day in Boston. It was a classic rock show, with the obligatory obscenities, t-shirt cannon, audience singing competitions, confetti, explosions, and more. We definitely got our money's worth, and Katie and I got to relive our youth with a concert that lived up to all the expectations of 1980s spectacles. Billy Joe Armstrong and the gang gave it their all and the kids have a golden memory that will most likely last a lifetime. I can't wait to find out what show they want to see in 2010!

5. Charlie Kohlhase and The Explorers' Club with Eric Hoffbauer, West End Studio Theatre in Portsmouth As I said, there is not enough free jazz in Portsmouth. And on a cold, wintery night in early 2009, Charlie and his free-thinking cohorts were determined to do something about that. I wish more people attended this show. It was a small audience, and the music deserved to be heard. A CD release show for the Explorers Club's latest effort, the wonderful musicians in Charlie's band were ON. Free jazz at its finest. Eric Hoffbauer, who is the Explorers Club guitarist, also opened the show with many of his originals. I hope I have more notice the next time these guys come to town. I'll beat the drum and get people out. They are definitely worth it.

4. Clara's Dream, The Music Hall in Portsmouth - As wintery as it was, there was nothing cold about this hot show of jazz and tap. It was the second time I've seen Clara's Dream and though I remember the show as being amazing in 2004, everyone I was with said this run was much better. I don't care to compare the two, but I will say that this year's production was fantastic, one of the best shows of the year. Even though it is a dance show, the live band on stage gave one of the best jazz performances I've heard all year and are deserving of high honors on this list. I'm glad the Music Hall let Drika Overton bring this gem back, and hope this wasn't its last hurrah. My Christmas wish is that this show should have a long life for many more seasons.

3. Spinal Tarp, The Barley Pub in Dover - O.M.G. It was tough deciding not to make this the #1 show of the year. If you missed it, I'm sorry. You missed something very, very special. In my opinion, it is nearly impossible to pull of a good parody of a parody, but somehow these guys managed to do just that. I have never, ever had so much fun at a Halloween concert. My full blog report is here. This was one for the books. Can they top this for 2010? If they come close, I'll be floored. Wow.

2. Amanda Palmer with Nervous Cabaret, the Portland Music Hall - This was a great show - and adding Nevous Cabaret really changed up the mix of Amanda's music in a great way. Now I'm looking forward to her New Year's Eve show with the Boston Pops. I decided not to wait and got this list out now, but I have a feeling that the final show of 2009 might give the top of this list a run for its money. (the picture is of me and Amanda right after the November 2009 show)

1. The Dirty Projectors, the Somerville Theatre - The Dirty Projectors are, without a doubt, one of the most creative, unique bands of today. The vocal work is complex and startling - in the best of ways. The arrangements are unexpected and clever. And the music is truly original. Katie and I were thrilled to catch them in June and are eagerly hoping to see them again (we missed their last trek through Boston due to a scheduling conflict). This show was the gem of the year. If you don't know their music, go buy their CDs immediately. I can't guarantee that you'll love, or even like them. But they deserve a listen.

And with that I come to the end of another list and another year. Let me know what your favorite show of 2009 was. You just might convince me to go see your favorite band in 2010.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Amanda Palmer 11/12/109 Setlist

Those who know me well know that I am a pretty big fan of Amanda Palmer. I went to her November 12th concert in Portland and will be going to see her with Katie on New Years Eve with the Boston Pops - yes, that's less than 3 weeks away and I can't think of many better ways to ring in the new year. I've been meaning to do my customary posting of her setlist from the Portland show for some time, but concert happenings at PMAC have been keeping me too busy. So here it is, better late than never:

Amanda Palmer with Nervous Cabaret
Portland Music Hall, Nov. 12, 2009
Missed Me
Guitar Hero
Mrs. O
Coin-Operated Boy
Point of it All
I Google You
Sex Changes
Mandy Goes to Med School
House of the Rising Sun (Animals cover)
Leeds United
Makin' Whoopie (cover on ukulele)
That's Not My Name (Ting Tings cover)

Monday, December 07, 2009

The Music Ensemble/Sports Team analogy

I have two sons who are active Little League players - actually only one now, since my older son has aged out of the league. Both are also very active musicians. Sometimes I'll talk with parents who will make comparisons between team sports and music ensemble experiences. I'll often hear a music rehearsal (or class) compared to a sports team practice, an analogy that doesn't hold up for me. I think of it a little differently. Here are some comparisons, with the sports team concept first, followed by the music ensemble concept.

manager/coach=conductor/instructor (easy enough)

player (athlete)=player (musician) (as easy as it gets)

team practice=practicing instrument/music at home (I'll explain some of these more at the end)

regular season game=music ensemble rehearsal/class

playoff game=performance/concert

You may be asking: "Why isn't a rehearsal analogous to a practice and a performance analogous to a game?" Well, in most youth sports programs there are many games that lead up to some form of championship series. In most leagues, such a Little League, regular season games are all about equal playing time (as much as is possible) and learning the game. Team records in Little League are cleared at the beginning of the playoffs - all teams begin the post-season on equal footing. Only in the playoffs do wins and losses determine rank in the league.

In a music ensemble, there tend to be far fewer performances than games in a sports season. In fact, in most American educational ensembles (not just PMAC, but public schools and other music opportunities) there tends to be only one or two performances at the end of a long series of rehearsals. The same weight is put on such performances as is put on sports playoff games. Performances, like playoff games, are taken very seriously, even though the point (like in sports) is to experience the thrill and joy of participation in such an event. Good Little League programs are able to balance fun with the gravity of a playoff game, and good music programs are able to balance fun with the gravity of live performance in front of an audience.

Regular season games are very important. Each season I see my sons' teams improve vastly, especially in the area of defense (which is the aspect of baseball that requires the most team interaction), over the course of the regular season. It is the regular season games that provide the educational atmosphere that make compelling and well-played playoff games possible.

A baseball game can't be played without all 9 fielders, and some pitching and fielding relief in the dugout. Basically, a team plays at its best when everyone is present. The same holds true for music ensembles. Whether an orchestra, rock band or sax quartet, all ensembles play their best when everyone is present. In a music ensemble, the need for all members to be present and playing is analogous to a team's need for all players at a regular season game.

In sports teams, practices are opportunities isolate fundamentals and work on drills. I see this as analogous to practicing one's part at home or in private lessons with a teacher. Just as a sports team can't run onto the field and play a game without practicing drills and learning rules in practice, a music ensemble can't play pieces of music in a rehearsal without the players practicing and learning their parts independently. Just as baseball players will practice fielding ground balls during drills at their team practice, music students should be practicing isolated passages from their music in independent practice sessions and lessons. Yes, the first several rehearsals are spent putting isolated parts of music together, but in most music ensembles entire pieces are being played after the first couple rehearsals (if not from the very first rehearsal). And once the musical group starts playing full pieces in rehearsal, independent practice does not stop, but rather continues to be an important part of the preparation cycle.

As with all analogies, these comparisons are not iron-clad definitions. I present them purely to demonstrate expectation similarities. Similar to sports, each player in a music ensemble plays a specific, unique role. And as such, each player is as indispensable to their ensemble as a player is to his team.

In rehearsals, much like sports games, the absence of players creates challenges that are sometimes impossible to overcome. When there aren't enough players to field, games are forfeited, and teams miss the opportunity to prepare for the playoffs. When playing in an ensemble, the same level of commitment is expected of a musician as is expected of an athlete on a sports team. And when student musicians rise to the occasion, remarkable things happen. That is why a spectacular music performance can often give audiences the same feelings of excitement and joy that sports fans experience during a playoff win.

Saturday, December 05, 2009

Vote for PMAC in the Chase Community Giving Program on Facbook

Chase Bank is giving $5million to charities this year based on Facebook voting. The top vote-getter will receive $1million and the four runner-ups will each receive $100,000 each. The 100 charities that receive the most votes will each receive $25,000. The link to vote for the Portsmouth Music and Arts Center is at the bottom of this blog entry.

Now, you're thinking this is a long shot. Maybe. But the Facebook Application that is taking the votes is only allowing one vote per Facebook member. So most organizations are not getting that many votes. As I write this, PMAC already had 62 votes. It doesn't seem like a lot, but I've been searching though a lot of big nonprofits and I've only come across 5 with more than 100 votes. The largest vote getter I've found is the American Cancer Society of New York with a little over 700 votes. That is one of the largest charities in the world, with a HUGE Facebook population. So I'm thinking that any charity that can get into the hundreds might have a chance at this. So VOTE for PMAC!

The $25,000 is an unrestricted grant. It will make our educational programs more accessible to families who are facing tough financial times. It will help us develop new educational programs. We're working on expanding our visual arts classes - a grant like this would help us do more now.

Getting a membership at Facebook is easy. Click here: JOIN FACEBOOK. Once you're a member, be sure to become a friend of The Portsmouth Music and Arts Center. Our Facebook page is HERE. You'll get updates about PMAC and be able to interact with our Facebook community. Sometimes our Facebook fans are the first to learn about new PMAC happenings.

If you're a bit cautious about the net, you can still vote without creating an active account. Just make an account that is fully private and vote. No one will ever see who you are. But you will make a difference. (FYI: Several PMAC supporters have already done this and their votes count equally.)

So click the link below and help us get over the 100 vote mark. That's our goal. Let's see if we can hit it together. Thanks for helping us build community through the arts.

Thursday, December 03, 2009

Social Capital

Lew Feldstein, president of the New Hampshire Charitable Foundation, spoke before the Portsmouth Rotary Club today. The topic: What is social capital? Direct from Lew's literature, social capital "refers to the bonds that tie a community together - bonds that make communities safer, schools better and people healthier. When people are invested in their communities, they are more likely to vote, volunteer and care for one another."

The core message was that our connections with other people count. These connections have more than casual meaning. Such connections impact every aspect of our life, and the more meaningful the connection, the more positive the impact. This means that volunteering for an organization - getting involved - has as many benefits for you as it does for the organization you're helping. Maybe more.

When a community has a high level of social capital, benefits are seen in the areas of educational achievement, government performance, economic growth, and community safety. That's right - the higher the social capital in your community, the lower the crime rate.

This is a similar message as is heard in relation to "take back our streets" nights, when communities gather outside to celebrate while simultaneously "taking back the streets from criminals." In Portsmouth we participate in "National Night Out" every August for that very reason. This builds social capital.

Being a community member that participates also builds social capital - for you and your community. When you sing in a choir, play in a band, take an art class, or even go for a walk with your friends.

The Portsmouth Music and Arts Center is an organization that prides itself in building social capital. Here are some examples of the PMAC experience that result in a higher level of social capital:
  • We encourage ensemble experiences for all of our music students and classroom experiences for our art students. The interaction between students is a powerful experience.
  • Our students are able to network within our school - especially adult students. I can name several bands that were formed by adult music students (and professionals) who met in the walls of PMAC (Crabshack, George Rinalducci and the J Notes, Elissa Margolin and Friends, to name a few).
  • Our faculty and staff is a "family." We all know each other, collaborate, share in our lives outside work, and often get together socially outside of the school. We tell each other jokes, and while we take our work very seriously, we try not to take ourselves too seriously.
  • Our board of directors and volunteers are passionate about arts education. They all love PMAC - they really do. This becomes a unifying bond that results in life-long relationships outside of our organization.

What does all of this mean? Lew puts it simply: the more you are involved in your community, the healthier you and your community will become. And he closed his talk with a warning. Social capital is in decline. People are less involved with one another these days. There are fewer and fewer families spending early evenings on the front porch conversing with neighbors. Fewer people are seeking out others for meaningful relationships.

My hope is that an understanding of social capital will encourage more people to become engaged with their community. With other people. We're one outlet for such interaction, but there are dozens of other opportunities presented to each and every one of us daily. The next time such an option pops up, think about saying yes.