We get asked a lot of questions, from how to listen at a concert to how we met and if Deb’s crystal flute is really 200 years old (yes, it is... 206 to be exact!). We love answering inquiries, because it shows you’re engaged and curious—so, thank you! In this article, we answer questions from listeners and music presenters on the creative, collaborative process of programming our concerts. Read on to find out if we’ve answered yours.
Question: How do you create your concert programs? Where do you find the inspiration?
Debra Silvert: Every concert starts somewhere. As the initial contact, I talk with the presenter to find out what their audience is like and what their programming typically is. This is important for us to understand because we want to program something their audience will want to come to. For example, we just performed a concert for a local series with five concerts each year. Only one is traditionally classical—so we worked with the presenter to build a thematic program for Valentine’s Day that showcased romantic music for flute and guitar. This really got our creativity flowing. Kent Holliday’s Four Romantic Songs was a natural choice, and we also wanted to feature a gorgeous transcription of Franz Schubert’s Sonata in A minor, D. 821, “Arpeggione.” It fit the theme as a piece from the Romantic period.
Paul Bowman: I saw in my mind an image of a gentleman in a red shirt and dark hat, with a rose in his teeth, dancing the tango with a special senorita. Astor Piazzolla wrote the fantastic Histoire du Tango, which is a standard of the flute-guitar repertoire. We chose one movement, Café 1930, because it’s an older version of the tango form—lovely and slow and melancholy. And with these pieces and a few others, the program came together collaboratively.
Question: Is there a concert program you’ve never done—but really would like to?
DS: Yes! We’ve been programming for our Project Listen Up! initiative, which is about bringing our “wickedly great works” as we call them into nontraditional venues. So, we’ve had this idea to bring a concert program into a funeral home, which is not a typical setting for a concert! We’d call it “Music by Dead White Guys” and it would include selections by some of the giants of classical music—and the idea would be twofold, to bring music to a nontraditional venue but also to sort of lift the stigma around death with a vibrant performance in a usually solemn setting. We’re not sure if it’s a terrific or a horrible idea, but we are sure it’s an original one.
PB: We’d include Maurice Ravel’s Pavane for a Dead Princess and CPE Bach’s Hamburg Sonata and are still working out the rest of the program. Gluck’s Dance of the Blessed Spirits would seem a good fit. Debra has been in touch with a few funeral homes, so this might actually come to be.
Question: Are there any “rules of thumb” you follow when creating a program?
DS: Yes! My husband always says, “you have to end with a hummer.” He means that we want to send the audience out of the hall with an earworm, something they’ll sing all the way home. It’s such an upbeat, feel-good way to finish.
PB: We think a lot about the order of the program, and whether there is an intermission or not. If we’re doing something that might be a bit more “out there” for an audience, we’ll program it in the middle of the first half or just after intermission.
Question: Do you ever have creative differences you need to work out?
DS: I really enjoy finding new pieces and commissioning works, but I also really love some of our “oldies but goodies” in the repertoire. I definitely tend toward finding themes or hooks that appeal to an audience, and Paul has helped me to become more adventurous. We balance each other well.
PB: I have an abiding love for some of the more “contemporary” styles of classical music; this comes from my time at the University of California, San Diego and from my love of the challenge of performing it well. This music can be more challenging for audiences to enjoy, so sometimes Debra and I have a little dance of push-and-pull as we’re programming. Ultimately, we’re both aligned in creating a concert experience that will take listeners on a journey with us.
Have a question for us on the creative process of programming concerts? We’d love to hear it!
We’re often asked, “What’s the story behind Duo Sequenza?” After all, any successful musical partnership is as much about your collaboration onstage as it is offstage. Ours is a story with roots that go back more than three decades, and we love to share it.
The early days
It all started in 1988, when two young musicians formed a flute and classical guitar duo. We loved how we played together and enjoyed the repertoire—but that wasn’t all. We had a vision to entice new listeners into concert halls. For six seasons we toured, premiering new American works for flute and classical guitar in concert halls and music festivals in the US, Asia, and Europe.
Then, life carried us in different directions, as it sometimes does. I (Debra) took a break from performing to care for—and unschool—my four children. Paul moved to Europe, where he continued his performance career.
The years went by—21 of them in all. During this time, we even lost touch. And it’s no wonder—the world changed during these two decades. Email and text messages replaced letters. The world of classical music changed, too. As audiences declined, numerous chamber music presenters simply vanished. Artist managers and agencies closed their doors as the demand for talent dwindled.
A return, and the present
As the demands of motherhood changed, and life took another turn, I began to feel the pull of the classical music world again. I began to renew lost connections with colleagues. I went to the National Flute Association Convention for the first time in years. This annual event for players, composers, and vendors is one of the world’s largest gatherings of flutists.
I was also thinking about Paul, and about Duo Sequenza’s first act. Eventually, with help from friends, I tracked him down in Europe. In January 2015, we together decided to pick up where we left off.
We knew, though, that our path back to the stage wouldn’t be easy. Organizations were presenting fewer chamber music concerts, and competition was fierce.
Where others would have seen adversity, though, we saw opportunity. We saw the need for a classical revolution, starting right in our own backyard, the South Shore region of Lake Michigan! We’d put down roots in Indiana long ago: Paul grew up in picturesque Chesterton nestled in the Indiana Dunes, and I came to Valparaiso at 17...and never left.
We also had the ideal opportunity to celebrate: Indiana’s Bicentennial in December 2016. A major piece of new music for flute and guitar featuring regional themes seemed a grand idea! South Shore Suite by Jorge Muniz premiered at Valparaiso's Memorial Opera House in January 2017, helping put us back on the stages of our state.
In the years since, South Shore Suite has been a cornerstone piece of our repertoire. It’s been the basis of our “Journey Beyond the Notes,” the audience Interactive concert experience that brings listeners inside the music through engaging participatory activities. We’ve toured and performed it throughout the country. And, in our second act of performing together, we’ve also premiered other works by notable composers, including Gary Schocker’s Crystal Healing and Dorothy Hindman's Untitled IV. Jerry Owen’s Pimpaalitaawi Neekawikamionki is still awaiting its premiere courtesy of COVID. (And there are more wonderful works yet to come!)
We’ve also found a very special pairing of my Laurent crystal flute and classical guitar. Our performances with this flute consistently draw larger, more diverse audiences, and we’re excited to see where compositions incorporating this unique instrument take us—and you—musically.
Through our many years of playing together—before and after our hiatus—we’ve always remained dedicated to our vision of bringing new listeners to classical music.
We’ve been through a very challenging two years, with much uncertainty still in our present. This time has been especially difficult for performing artists of all disciplines, as in-person events have been few and far between.
As we see it, though, there is reason to hope. Our musical journey together began nearly 35 years ago, and through this time, we’ve come to see how wonderful and much-needed classical music is. A live performance happens in space and time, never to be repeated. It simply must be experienced. We know it’s special, and our dedication to taking you on a memorable journey as a listener has never been stronger.
We’ve also learned how music can soothe the soul, making the bumps in life’s road somehow easier to bear. We’re moving forward with our recording projects, including our second album and our planned crystal flute album. And we hope to see you in a concert hall sometime in 2022.
Just in time for Valentine’s Day, “Romantic Music for Flute and Classical Guitar,” performed by the internationally acclaimed Duo Sequenza will be presented on Sunday, February 13 at 7 pm in Sycamore Hall at Woodland Park, 2100 Willowcreek Road, Portage. This is third of the Fall 2021 - Spring 2022 live music concerts presented by Portage LIVE!, now in its 32nd season of bringing quality live entertainment to the community.
Admission: Students FREE; General Admission Adult: $15.00 at the door; Adult admission is FREE with a Portage LIVE! Reciprocity Season Ticket Pass*
Musical works by Pujol, Holliday, Muniz, Piazzolla, and Ibert are included on this inspiring new program designed to move hearts and minds with some of today’s most beautiful music for flute and classical guitar. Franz Schubert’s romantic masterpiece “Sonata Arpeggione” is featured. You won't want to miss this memorable event, so mark your calendar and get your tickets now! “Classical music suffers from an image of being elitist, stuffy, and boring when it’s really anything but!” said Debra Silvert. “We are so excited to be presenting our ‘Romantic Music’ for the Portage community. It’s a unique program that offers something special for every listener. And our music is sensory-friendly as well!”
Duo Sequenza has toured extensively throughout the U.S., Asia, and Europe. Lauded as "… brilliant, gossamer, and completely engaging…a delight to hear..." by Arts Indiana Magazine, Duo Sequenza is comprised of flutist Debra Silvert, “[who] uses a wide range of expression to serve the music.” (American Record Guide, Critic Todd Gorman) and Paul Bowman, “among the best guitarists in the world” (Rheinische Post, Düsseldorf, Germany). Their award-winning adjunct projects, composer collaborations, and residencies augment their deep impact on today’s classical music, as have the more than 20 new works written for them. “Yes…It’s a Thing!” their 2019 album of world premiere recordings was hailed as “…a sublime listening experience….” (Midwest Record Entertainment Reviews, News & Views) A sequel is slated for a 2022 release by Navona Records.
Portage LIVE! 's exciting 2021 - 2022 live concert continues with these Portage concerts:
Thursday, March 3, 2022 Fortunate Sons
Woodland Park, Oakwood Hall, 7 p.m. Creedence Clearwater Revival Tribute Band
Thursday, April 7, 2022 Shout Section
Woodland Park, Oakwood Hall, 7 p.m. Big Band
Wednesday, May 4, 2022 Mariachi Ameca, Latin Night! Woodland Park, Oakwood Hall, 7 p.m. Family-based Mariachi Band
And that’s JUST the Portage performances! Want to hear even more great music? *A Reciprocity Season Ticket Pass for the Fall 2021-Spring 2022 Concert Season, purchased through Portage LIVE! is STILL a great deal! Our www.portagemusic.com $50 Adult Season Ticket Pass entitles you admittance to all four remaining Portage LIVE! Concerts (a $60 value!) PLUS entrance to ADDITIONAL concerts performed in the neighboring towns of Valparaiso and LaPorte, Indiana. Enjoy a variety of LIVE entertainment by professional artists in this exciting season-ticket concert package!
Portage LIVE! (formerly Portage Township Live Entertainment Association) is a not-for-profit 501(c)3 organization whose mission is to make live entertainment and cultural events available in Portage Township at an affordable cost to all -- and FREE to students. Our season ticket holders help Portage LIVE! to realize this goal. To order season tickets, inquire about the complete Fall 2021- Spring 2022 Reciprocity Concert Season Schedule, learn about becoming a Portage LIVE! patron of the arts and/or a Maestro Society member, call Linda Hardin at 219-762-5025, email HARDINLL@MSN.COM, or visit www.portagelive.org.
Duo Sequenza IS a uniquely inspiring combo of flute and classical guitar chamber ensemble. Duo Sequenza features flutist Debra Silvert and classical guitarist Paul Bowman.
Learn more about Duo Sequenza here.
Prominent composer and GRAMMY® nominee to write first composition for flute and classical guitar
Valparaiso-based classical flute and guitar chamber music ensemble Duo Sequenza is thrilled to announce that it has been awarded funding for a commission by prominent American composer and GRAMMY® nominee Jonathan Leshnoff. Funding is provided by the Walder Charitable Fund, a donor-advised fund. The award is the single largest project grant in Duo Sequenza’s history.
Based in Northwest Indiana, Duo Sequenza is an internationally lauded concert artist chamber ensemble featuring Debra Silvert, flute of Valparaiso, and Paul Bowman, classical guitar, a native of Chesterton. Silvert and Bowman have long admired the work of Jonathan Leshnoff. As concert artists strategically developing new audiences for today’s classical music, Duo Sequenza promotes the works of living composers. The desire to create this new work comes from a shared belief between Silvert, Bowman, and Leshnoff that “classical music possesses the rare ability to transform the mundane realities of everyday life into a lofty spiritual realm which can heal and elevate our world.”
Of the composition and collaboration, Leshnoff said, “I have been waiting to write a work for Debra and Paul for some time, as their talent and passion inspires me. This work in particular is dear to my heart as I am able to set a passage of the Talmud to music—a first for me and a long-awaited step in my musical and spiritual growth. We are grateful for the generous support that has made this work possible; without it, the work would have remained a dream.”
“We could not be more excited, honored, or grateful to receive this award and move forward with Jonathan’s commission,” said Silvert. “Jonathan’s music is exquisite and inspired, and we can’t wait to bring it to life.” As Bowman noted, “This is a major milestone not only for us, but for all concert artist ensembles of our pairing, to add a work by a composer of this prominence to our repertoire.”
Leshnoff has been hailed by The New York Times as a “leader of contemporary American lyricism.” His music is renowned for its striking harmonies, structural complexity, and powerful themes. His compositions have been performed by leading international orchestras and chamber ensembles in hundreds of concerts worldwide. Leshnoff has been commissioned recently by Carnegie Hall, the Philadelphia Orchestra, and the symphony orchestras of Atlanta, Baltimore, Dallas, Kansas City, Nashville, and Pittsburgh, among others. Leshnoff is the composer-in-residence with the Baltimore Chamber Orchestra, Fairfax and Harrisburg symphony orchestras and is a professor of music at Towson University.
His first for the pairing of flute and guitar, Leshnoff’s commission is inspired by the Babylonian Talmud, Gemara Brachot 3A: “A lyre hung over the bed of David and when midnight came, a northern wind would blow upon it, and it would play of its own accord.” Duo Sequenza will give the live world premiere of this work in late 2022 and, in accordance with the prominence of the composition, is evaluating concert venues for the premiere. Duo Sequenza will tour the work exclusively through June 2024 throughout the United States on two concert programs: “American Made! Our Commissions by Leshnoff, Blackwood, Muniz, Owen, and Schocker” and “Yes, It’s a (Jewish) Thing! Works by Leshnoff, Clearfield, Hand, Schocker, Dorff, and Dimow.”
Interested presenting organizations are encouraged to contact Duo Sequenza for more details.
Rising Stars Debra Silvert & Paul Bowman of Duo Sequenza On The Five Things You Need To Shine In The Music Industry - An Interview with Edward Sylvan
Duo Sequenza is pleased to participate in this interview with Authority Magazine
“All concert artists need to double as teaching artists.” I am reminded of the picture that shows a classical music performance as being analogous to an iceberg; you see the tip of the iceberg sitting above the surface of the water, but below the waterline, you see this colossally massive base. If we don’t take the time to educate our listeners to what that enormous base consists of, they will never develop as deep an appreciation for this art form as they would otherwise. They need to know about the process of composition, practice, and rehearsal. And they want to know.
As a part of our series about rising music stars, I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Debra Silvert & Paul Bowman of Duo Sequenza.
Debra Silvert: Critically acclaimed for her “full and sunny, golden tone,” flutist Debra Silvert has performed throughout the U.S., Europe, and Asia, delighting audiences with her consummate interpretive ability and warm, engaging stage presence. An enthusiastic champion of American music, she has both commissioned and premiered new literature for the flute.
Paul Bowman: Classical guitarist Paul Bowman is one of today’s most passionate avatars of new music for the guitar. Paul Bowman won 1st Prize at the VIth International Competition for Classical Guitar (“Casa España”) in San Juan, Puerto Rico, and was a Finalist at the Guitar Foundation of America Competition in Milwaukee.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Can you tell us the story of how you grew up?
I grew up in Depew NY, a suburb of Buffalo and Paul grew up in Chesterton IN, a small town nestled in the Indiana Dunes just a short drive from our duo’s home base. We are just 10 months apart in age, and both of our families were decidedly ‘blue-collar.’ No one in my family was musical at all, whereas Paul’s mom was a devoted classical music listener with a huge recording collection and a subscription to the Lyric Opera of Chicago. His older brother played the electric bass in rock bands.
In the second grade, I had a few weeks of flute lessons in school but stopped because the teacher had bad breath! My family was alcoholic and incredibly dysfunctional. In addition, from age 8 to 12, I was in and out of hospitals with a necrotic, septic hip. My juvenile delinquency started at about age 13 and landed me in foster care. At age 15, I picked up the flute with the encouragement of my foster mom who paid for my lessons. I fell fast and hard for its sound, and almost immediately decided I would become a flutist.
Paul’s involvement in classical music was more gradual, beginning in middle school with his participation in what still is one of Indiana’s best public school music programs. He got serious very quickly the summer he was 16. He had recently heard Andes Segovia live in recital and then had a diving accident in which he broke his neck at the fifth vertebrae. One more millimeter would have rendered him paralyzed. The accident was cathartic for him, and he became passionate to master the classical guitar from that point on.
Can you share a story with us about what brought you to this specific career path?
Paul had completed his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in performance at the Manhattan School of Music during which time he’d done a good bit of work with various flutists. He thoroughly enjoyed the literature for the flute/guitar duo, so when he relocated back to Chesterton, having burned out on the hustle of freelancing in NYC, he started to ask around for a flutist he could form a duo with. I was recommended to him, so he called me, and we set up a time to meet and play. I was a bit intimidated by Paul initially as he brought along personal letters of recommendation from Lukas Foss and Elliot Carter! (Or maybe it was Charles Wuorinen!) I’d also never played any of the flute and guitar repertoires, so I was sight-reading. We immediately dug into some wonderful pieces he’d brought with him. Honestly, it was just magical, as we had an awesome musical rapport right from the start. There simply wasn’t any question in either of our minds after that first rehearsal that we should establish ourselves as a professional concert duo. We played our first public performance just six weeks later.
Can you tell us the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?
We’ve been around a long time, since 1988, so even though there were 21 years when we didn’t concertize as a duo (1993–2014), there are a lot of interesting stories. One oldie that really stuck with me was when we were out in New Mexico on a tour. We were to do a performance at a lodge in Los Alamos. We drove and drove but could not find the location. This was years before GPS. I remember driving up a mountain and then back down, up again, and back down again. Several times. We finally located the turnoff we’d been missing and arrived just five minutes before the curtain! The presenters were frantic! We quickly changed and played one of our best performances ever. Go figure. It may just prove that preparation is everything.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
The way you ask that it seems like we only made mistakes when we were first starting! Truth is, that after all these years, we’re still making them! That’s fine with us if we learn from them. Most recently, we made a huge mistake which wasn’t funny AT ALL, in trying to save money by acting as our own producers in the recording booth. This was for our first commercial release, “Yes…It’s a Thing!” (Navona Records, 2019) It’s a very fine recording and we’re pleased with it but its post-production phase was very rough!
When we’re performing, we are literally “making” music, and that requires a very specific sort of headspace that’s elusive and difficult to describe in words. We are still listening but in a very different, sort of anticipatory, reflective, and responsive way. When acting as a producer, you need to listen analytically, and either make notes or remember specifics about what you are hearing in each individual take. And if you’re the performer as well as the producer, you need to do that analytical listening continuously: simultaneously or immediately after you have played from your music-making headspace. It’s about as impossible to do as it is to explain. The unavoidable result is that both kinds of listening are somewhat compromised, and the cost is that you’ll be spending a lot more time in post-production than is necessary; the monetary savings are really an illusion.
Recording our second album was a completely different experience because we used a wonderful classical music producer throughout the three days of recording. This freed us to remain in that elusive music-making headspace the entire time we were recording without ever needing to analyze anything. It was an absolute joy to record this way, and we’re delighted with the post-production process so far. We expect the album, “Yes…It’s STILL a Thing!” to release on the Navona Records label in early 2022.
What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?
We have several great projects described on our website (www.DuoSequenza.com) but probably the most unusual one is our third commercial recording-to-be, “Yes…It’s a FRAGILE Thing!” In collaboration with PARMA Recordings/Navona Records, we issued a Call for Scores asking composers to submit their inspired ideas for new music they’d like to write for the Silvert 1816 Laurent Crystal Flute and classical guitar. We had 31 composers from all over the globe submit more than 40 fascinating ideas! We have completed the first elimination round to select the composers we will use. The completed works will be recorded by us with me playing this rare, historic flute. We still need to raise a minimum of $26,000. to bring the project to fruition. The flute is a true rarity, with just about 150 in existence globally, most of which are in museums. They are virtually never heard in performance; to my knowledge, there are only five flutists worldwide that have performed on them in recent years.
We are very interested in diversity in the entertainment industry. Can you share three reasons with our readers about why you think it’s important to have diversity represented in classical music? How can that potentially affect our culture?
Before addressing the topic of diversity, we should look at a few other things we in classical music have perhaps allowed to go sideways. It is our absolute belief that classical music in all its forms has something magical to offer everyone!
Especially in the U.S., Western classical music in the European tradition has long suffered from a perception of being elitist with little to no “popular” appeal. We must admit that much of the classical music canon consists of music written by “dead, white guys!” It is important to realize this because if any potential new listener has already decided that they don’t care for, or cannot relate to the 3Bs (Bach, Beethoven, and Brahms), they tend to opt out of listening to anything else labeled as “classical,” even though “classical music” is a vast and exciting musical genre encompassing so much more!
Another problem the classical music world faces is the perception that “new music,” “modern classical music,” and “contemporary classical music” is “avant-garde” music. Again, if the potential listener has already decided that they don’t care for “avant-garde,” they tend to opt out of listening. I remember a casual acquaintance asking me what we’d be playing on an upcoming program, and I responded that it was a program of music by living American composers. I was shocked when they reacted, “Well, I’m NOT coming to THAT!” They had no idea that only a small percentage of works being written by today’s living composers would be classified as “avant-garde.”
Classical music, no matter its sub-genre, is qualitatively different from popular music in that it demands active, engaged, and focused listening. The extent to which any listener can do this with concert artists that are themselves well-anchored in their music-making process will determine the impact of the experience on all parties. The gestalt of a satisfying classical music listening experience defies description in words. In contrast, popular music is the ideal medium for episodic listening. You really don’t need to pay much attention to popular music to thoroughly enjoy it.
Today’s classical music scene is blessed with an abundance of composers of diversity, and we are seeing more and more diversity in our concert artists. It seems to me that classical music listeners are somewhat less diverse, but I think that’s changing. Surely, as more and more composers and artists of diverse backgrounds become prominent in the field, potential listeners of diverse backgrounds may become more interested in the genre. Also important to mention is the fact that classical music has always ‘borrowed’ musical material and inspiration from popular, ethnic, and indigenous musical traditions. It follows logically that the more diversity we have represented in our composers especially, the richer and more sumptuous will be the classical music that results.
Duo Sequenza has been interested in the development of new audiences for classical music since its inception. This may be the natural outgrowth of Paul and I being so intrigued by how we, two people from such typically ‘blue-collar’ roots, ever found their life’s passions in the classical music world. To us, that proves that classical music can be transformative for anyone who is willing to take the time to listen with an open heart.
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.
1. “This will be the hardest job you’ll ever love and NO ONE (except for your classical music colleagues) will EVER understand why you’re doing it.” Every classical musician and composer has close friends and family who, try though they might, cannot understand why we persist at what is always an uphill battle. Classical music venues, presenters, and series are fewer than they were years ago, probably due to aging and shrinking audiences, making the competition to book tours fierce. With well-entrenched public misperceptions about classical music, it’s challenging to recruit new listeners even when we self-produce. Classical music is expensive to produce either live or in recorded form, and the revenue generated by the box office, album sales, artist fees, and royalties simply does not cover expenses. Lastly, our culture favors activities that provide immediate gratification, but classical music demands not only a commitment of time but of undivided attention during that time. And there’s a lot competing for our attention out in the world!
2. “There will never be enough practice time. Or rehearsal time. And there’s no such thing as perfect.” The process of truly heartfelt music-making, especially as concerns classical music, involves the complete subjugation of everything written on the page as well as the technical challenges of the musical instruments. The problem is that to be able to do that, a great deal of practice is necessary, and that takes a great deal of time. It’s essential that the needs of the music be met regardless of any challenges it presents. Eventually, much like a visual artist, a concert artist decides to simply stop their “process,” which is practicing/rehearsing the piece. Interestingly, we come back to our process repeatedly every time we prepare that very same piece for a new performance. It is not that we are trying to achieve perfection in our practice or rehearsal; we recognize perfection as unattainable. But, while we chase it all the same, we experience the music evolving and changing along with ourselves: the continual revision of ourselves is an essential part of the human condition and this means the music will change if it’s coming from our hearts. I always laugh when someone in my family interrupts my practice with, “Are you almost done practicing?” The honest answer is, “No, I will never even come close to being almost done!”
3. All concert artists need to double as teaching artists.” I am reminded of the picture that shows a classical music performance as being analogous to an iceberg; you see the tip of the iceberg sitting above the surface of the water, but below the waterline, you see this colossally massive base. If we don’t take the time to educate our listeners to what that enormous base consists of, they will never develop as deep an appreciation for this art form as they would otherwise. They need to know about the process of composition, practice, and rehearsal. And they want to know.
4. “Establish a non-profit entity immediately to support your musical mission, once you’ve defined it.” Let’s face it; classical music listeners still comprise a small percentage of the populace, and that small audience is not able to adequately support all of its composers, musicians, presenters, and venues with a revenue stream that does not include a large donor base. You will need to raise money, and lots of it, if you hope to be successful in delivering your music to the listener. Becoming a non-profit corporation makes effective fundraising possible.
5. “Like it or not, you must function as an entrepreneur, and you will need to have all the skills that go with it.” For me, this is the thing I wrestle with the most, especially the fundraising aspects. I have developed my entrepreneurial skills through the school of hard knocks, and it hasn’t been easy, nor do I feel I have all the tools in my wheelhouse I should have. In today’s world, if your calling is to make this music to share with your fellow humans, you’d do best to make peace with this early on.
Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?
Always remember how blessed you really are just to be able to share this music with your listeners. As Paul once said, “If it was easy, everybody would be doing it!” The alternative is to simply not perform but, if performing classical music is your life’s calling, you will soon find that not doing so is just not an option.
Waking up knowing I’ll be able to practice that day is literally what inspires me to get out of bed in the morning! If that describes you, know that no matter how difficult a day you may be having with the myriad administrative duties that go into running a professional chamber music ensemble, if you prioritize your practice time and your music-making process, you will be living inspired. If that’s NOT you, I think it will be difficult for you to make classical music your day job for very long. I believe most of us in classical chamber music would agree.
Additionally, I think it helps a lot to see your daily work, whether it be practicing, rehearsing, recording, fundraising or administrative tasks as being ongoing, ever-evolving processes. Thinking in terms of ‘finishing’ things is not especially useful except for specific projects and grant writing. There’s simply too much work to do!
You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)
Paul and I remain convinced of the profound positive influence classical music can have on individuals as well as on the world as a whole. None of us are getting off this planet alive. We owe it to ourselves to enjoy all the wonders of what we have together while we are here. We hope that people will have some sort of a spiritual experience through our music — transcendent, inspiring, meditative. People talk when leaving classical music venues. The buffs are more technical with what they say, but many others are like “Wow!” Classical music speaks powerfully to people, yet people can’t easily talk about it. We want people to come to hear our music and not just to hear us as personalities. The focus should be on the music; it’s true that our music is an essential part of us, but it’s really not about us. Don’t get focused on us, be focused on our music. It’s bigger than us!
We aren’t nearly as important as our listeners; listeners represent the culmination of our music. It’s the same idea as, “If a tree falls in a forest, but no one is there to hear it, did it make a sound?” We ask, “If we make beautiful music, but there’s no audience to hear it, was any music really made at all?” Our music is meant to be heard by listeners, not just played by us. We love to hear our audiences’ reactions to our music, but they often don’t express themselves because it’s so personal.
Creativity is always changing and growing; it never ends. As long as creatives have creativity, there is going to be more impact we can have on the world. We change the world by opening up vistas that people may never have known even existed. The human mind is incredibly vast and classical music can light it up as nothing else can.
We would love to inspire huge numbers of new listeners to embark on a new path… of classical music listening! Our duo offers a great place to start; what’s not to love about the flute or classical guitar? Our music is not overwhelming to new listeners as a full-sized symphony orchestra might be. Our literature is often thematic, and individual pieces are generally not as lengthy as orchestral works can be.
Our music will provide you with the opportunity to listen actively and deeply in an engaged, focused way. With so much polarization and reactivity happening in our world today, people are often formulating how they should respond before they ever even listen. Careful listening is an essential skill for today’s society. We need to slow ourselves down, stop to smell the roses, listen, and have a spiritual experience — we need to sit down and be quiet. Classical music allows people to do this in such a pleasurable way — to revel in the healing vibrations of the music. Engaging deeply with the sounds themselves creates a profound whole-body experience. Music creates emotion while it helps people process their own emotions in a healthy way. Music offers a safe space and refuge for emotions that can otherwise feel frightening. Human beings are the only life form that engages in artistic creativity of this sort, using it as a means to connect with others.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
It goes without saying that Paul and I are most grateful for our musical collaboration with one another. Beyond that, we recognize how blessed we’ve been by the many contemporary composers who have been inspired to write such wonderful new music for us to share with our listeners. Without those ethereal ideas that started deep inside their heads and which they were ultimately able to commit to paper, we wouldn’t have the basis on which to create the transcendent listening experiences we want to share with our audiences.
We’ve received generous support from South Shore Arts, the Indiana Arts Commission, Arts Midwest, the National Endowment for the Arts as well as private foundations for our various projects.
Our individual donors have been the lifeblood of our organization as their support has made it possible for our music to reach listeners throughout the U.S. and in a dozen foreign countries. Paul and I also recognize the profound influence of our talented teachers. We are forever in their debt.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
Leonard Bernstein said, “Music can name the unnameable and communicate the unknowable.” There are many terrific quotes about music, but this one distills for me not only why we do what we do as an ensemble, but why what we do is so very important. As human beings, we have an innate sense of awe and wonder at the world around us. Our experience on the planet is fleeting and perhaps not as appreciated as it could be. Maybe we don’t grapple with the mystery of life as often as we should. I think Bernstein’s words here are so succinct in expressing our endless fascination with all things “music;” that most elusive, ethereal arts genre of all.
Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. :-)
Right now, for me, that would have to be Kent Nagano. He’s the very gifted conductor who wrote the book, “Classical Music: Expect the Unexpected.” He wrote the book I wish I could’ve written. It’s such an important read and addresses many of the topics we’ve talked about here. It’s a truly brilliant read and I can’t recommend it enough. I would also love to meet Daniel J. Levitan, the author of “This is Your Brain on Music” and “The World in Six Songs,” both of which are in-depth treatments on the phenomena of music and its connection to our brains. I find it so difficult to talk about music, but these two gentlemen have made music with their words!
How can our readers follow you online?
This was very meaningful, thank you so much! We wish you continued success!
Streaming services like Apple Music, Pandora, and Spotify have revolutionized the way many people listen to music. Where we once had libraries of records and CDs, now we can access music of any genre and any artist in our cars, homes, and on the go.
Any way you look at it, this is a leap forward for listeners. And in some ways, you can argue that anything that makes connecting music and listeners easier is a good thing. This was the transformative power behind portable music players like Discmans and iPods and other mp3s, which put music in our pockets decades ago.
But the streaming model for listening has its downsides, especially for recording artists. Once the label or recording company made most of the investment in producing an album. Now, streaming services have changed the model. Streaming services start by taking 30-34% of revenues from a stream, while the recording label takes between 40-55%, and this is based on the number of times a piece is streamed. The remaining—and much smaller—portion is shared out between the recording artist, publisher, and composer.
While bringing musicians and fans closer together is ultimately a positive, this is the downside: the rapid transformation of technology and business model has created challenges for artists. Our end goals are to touch listeners while also ensuring that our recorded work can advance our careers. And walking this line isn’t easy, especially because any DIY self-produced release doesn’t help with the “advance” part. Artists (including us classical musicians) must release on a commercial label to be nominated for (or win) a Grammy Award for their work.
Streaming service payouts to artists
Let’s take a closer look at the revenue share in the streaming services model. This system results in payouts as small as $0.003 and $0.008 per stream for artists, with many landing in the $0.003 to $0.004 range (in case fraction conversion is not second nature to you, that’s 3/10ths of one penny). Streaming services keep these sums under wraps, and payouts can vary greatly by country, label, and contract.
While the exact sums are hidden, the math is clear: if recording artists earn 3/10ths to 4/10ths of a penny on streams, and our work is streamed 100,000 times, we’re earning…wait for it…$400 or less on our investment in the recording.
Recordings require investment
These are heartbreakingly small returns, especially on an endeavor that costs $25,000 or more. While that sounds like a lot, this is a budget stretched carefully over what it takes to record high-quality performances. Duo Sequenza’s investment in a recording includes fees to rent an ideal acoustic performance space for recording; the cost of inclusive packaging for a sound producer and engineer; our very small artist fees, if we can pay ourselves at all; travel costs including meals, hotel, and mileage; and fees paid to the label for release, distribution, and promotion.
Damaging the creative ecosystem
These low streaming fees damage the creative ecosystem that performers and composers belong to. Even successful, high-profile artists see small returns from what has become the dominant mode of consuming music. This diminishes artists’ earnings and damages the talent pipeline for non-featured artists, emerging performers, and more.
Prominent artists are starting to speak out, calling for reforms in favor of artists and composers as well as limits to ownership of copyright that would revert to artists after a period of years.
Changing the equation
Awareness is the first step to true change, and we’re hopeful that a shift to benefit recording artists will come. Artists should have the ability to earn a fair return on their work, to have a viable career. This said, as artists, we believe that even though the required investment and small returns make the business of recordings a challenge, it is worthwhile and important to create them. For us, it comes down to creating a legacy of our work—and that of the composers—together expanding the repertoire for our ensemble. The works on our album “Yes…It’s a Thing!” as well as our forthcoming album “Yes…It’s STILL a Thing!” and our crystal flute album project “Yes…It’s a FRAGILE Thing!” are 100% world premiere recordings. We strongly believe in our mission as ambassadors for bringing these beautiful pieces to listeners and developing new audiences for today’s classical music.
What can listeners do? First, we want you to listen and enjoy music, especially ours. Consider, if you are able and so moved, a contribution to support our 2021 album fundraiser and our 2022 crystal flute album. This can help us raise the funds necessary for investment in these worthwhile projects. If you are inclined, share with others the reality artists face when it comes to streaming services. Lastly, subscribe to our listening platforms and buy our physical albums…for yourself and your friends! At the end of the day, our music-making needs you as listeners!
The process of two or more people working together to create or achieve the same thing.
As Duo Sequenza, we are musicians who promote the work of living composers. This means that we perform works by composers who are writing today’s classical music. It also means that we occasionally have a very special experience as musicians: commissioning a piece of music. This means asking a composer to write something specifically for us, and it’s a unique journey of collaboration we undertake together.
Before we share what it’s like, we want to address a stereotype. When people hear “today’s classical music,” they sometimes grimace. They’re either thinking it’s old school and stuffy, or they’re already bracing themselves for something that sounds a lot like “noise.”
Neither is true. Today’s classical music can be beautiful, lyrical, and completely enjoyable to listen to. This is at the heart of our mission to bring new audiences to classical music, and we do it through what we call “wickedly great” repertoire.
We’ve always leaned toward working with Midwestern composers because we’re an ensemble based in the Midwest. Many people think that New York City is the classical music capital of the country; the reality is that there are terrific composers writing beautiful contemporary classical music right here in our own backyard. Let us share a couple of stories.
Duo Sequenza’s first commission
Our first commission was Rondo Caprice, Op. 35 by Easley Blackwood, composed in 1992. At the time, Easley was on the University of Chicago faculty (Midwest, see?). While he’d been writing in a microtonal style in the 1970s and 1980s, he was returning to diatonic (tonal) works, and we thought he’d write an interesting piece. We called him up, told him we were in the market for a commission and planned to debut it at the Bar Harbor Music Festival’s New Composers program in Maine. We shared one of our recordings to give him a sense of our playing.
Easley wrote a one-movement theme and variations in traditional rondo form. It’s very tonal with a fresh, unique harmony throughout the piece. His inspiration was Franz Schubert, who was a fan of the guitar—so Easley wrote it as he felt that Schubert would have written for flute and guitar, had he lived another 30 years. As Easley composed, he sent us sections, and we even went to his apartment to rehearse the piece during his writing process.
Duo Sequenza’s South Shore Suite commission
Fast forward to 2016. It’s the early days of our return to concertizing, in Indiana’s Bicentennial year. We had the idea that we needed a work to mark this special occasion, a signature piece to spark local interest in our ensemble. Because it was Indiana’s 200th birthday and we are an Indiana-based ensemble, we thought our composer should be from Indiana, too.
So, we started to do some homework. We compiled a list of Indiana composers and we listened to some of their work online, largely so Paul could hear how they handled writing for the guitar (which can be tricky).
This led us to Jorge Muniz, a native of Spain who had been in the US for many years and was on the composition faculty of the Ernestine M. Raclin School of the Arts at Indiana University South Bend. We approached him and described our vision for a signature piece with geographical flavor. The result is South Shore Suite, a six-movement work written in October 2016 and premiered in January 2017. While we were not involved in the composition process as we were with Easley, Jorge had attended a few of our concerts at the Memorial Opera House in Valparaiso, so he knew our programs were thematic and had a good sense of our capabilities as performers.
About South Shore Suite and the commission, Jorge shared, “There is nothing more fulfilling to me than a close collaboration with performers in the making of a new composition. The conversations with Duo Sequenza as my South Shore Suite was being designed were fundamental in shaping this new work. It is wonderful for a composer to have such talented and expressive musicians at my disposal. It makes the process of composition a deeply enjoyable one!”
A word about world premieres: we’ve never been truly happy with our first performance of new pieces. The music changes and grows the longer we keep it in our repertoire. Audience reactions to new works also develop the pieces musically. When commissioning a composer, we try to give ourselves eight to 10 weeks to learn a piece and rehearse together, but even that can feel rushed.
Other world premieres
Even when we’re not specifically commissioning, we get unsolicited manuscripts from composers. Some have sent them out to multiple duos, and whoever secures a venue first gives the world premiere.
Sometimes we also find our way to interesting collaborations, as with Andrea Clearfield, who composed Farlorn Alemen, a piece we’ve included on our next album. We reached out to her after hearing one of her pieces for the woodwind quintet and asked if she’d ever written anything for flute and guitar. She’d written a song cycle on commission for soprano and piano that she had begun to imagine as a song without words for flute and guitar. After playing the piece in progress, we shared our insights and collaborated with Andrea for a final version. The biggest change was my (Deb’s) idea to transcribe it for alto flute. This wasn’t a commission so much as a collaboration that started with the composer’s inspiration and grew with ours.
Of our collaboration, Andrea said, “Duo Sequenza premiered a new arrangement of my work Farlorn Alemen for alto flute and guitar. I met with Debra earlier and was impressed not only by her beautiful tone and naturally musical playing but her dedication to excellent preparation and embodying the music's intent. The duo's interpretation was sensitive, intelligent, and deeply moving.”
Are there any commissions on the horizon? All we can tell you right now is, stay tuned!
It’s 205 years old. It’s made of glass. It only has four keys—and I (Debra) needed to learn how to play it.
What are we talking about? The Laurent crystal flute, of course! This unique flute has become a special guest in our performances—and we’ll feature it in our 2022 recording project for our third album, Yes, It’s a Fragile Thing!
The Laurent crystal flutes inspire more mystique than any other flute. Flutists dream of owning one; history buffs dream of hearing one played. There are perhaps only 140 examples of this type of flute worldwide, many of which are in museums like the Library of Congress. Few are actively played; in fact, we know of only four. This type of flute is therefore rarely heard. We’d like to share more of the backstory and history behind this special flute to bring it (and our performances) to life.
What’s a Laurent crystal flute?
Let’s start with a brief flute history lesson. Claude Laurent was a master flute maker to the French aristocracy. He was also a skilled glass fabricator. An innovator at a time when flute playing was popular in all levels of society, Laurent began making flutes in glass in 1806 in Paris. At this time, flutes were still made of wood. The introduction of the metal flute would come later, around 1838 (and cause its own stir). Laurent patented his glass flute in 1806 and won a silver medal that year at the Industrial Exposition in Paris. Laurent flutes quickly became the ultimate status symbol. They were owned by emperors, kings, and other royalty and aristocrats. They were also given as gifts to, among others, President James Madison.
Laurent made his flutes until 1848, and they became sought after for their ornate designs, including cut-glass and gemstone crowns (the piece on the very top of the flute). With just four or eight keys, depending on the model, these flutes were somewhere between the wooden one-keyed flute of the Baroque era (17th and early 18th century) and today’s modern, keyed flute made of precious metals like sterling silver or gold.
This was a period of political and geographic upheaval in Europe and the United States—Napoleon Bonaparte was emperor of France, and the British and the US had gone to battle in the War of 1812. It was also a period of rapid innovation in many different areas, from arts to industry. As time passed, the Laurent flutes fell out of favor as the modern keyed flute made popular by flutist Theobald Boehm became dominant. (Today’s flutes are based on the Boehm system.)
Yet in the last 50 years, the Laurent flutes have become sought-after again. After all, it’s fascinating to own and play a piece of history.
Finding a rare flute
I (Debra) first became enchanted with crystal flutes in 1987 on a trip to Washington DC, during which my husband and I met with Robert Shelton, then the curator of the Dayton C. Miller Collection at the Library of Congress. Mr. Shelton graciously permitted me to handle several Claude Laurent flutes, including the one that belonged to President James Madison. My husband decided that I should own one, and secretly put the word out with several antique instrument dealers.
In 1997, flute historian David Shorey acquired this flute at an estate sale in Florida. My husband bought it from him and surprised me with it. I was completely intimidated by the idea of playing it, as I had never attempted a historical flute, much less one made of glass! The flute remained safe and sound in its case with an occasional visit from me until winter 2014 when a flutist friend pointed out that 2016 would mark its 200th year—so, she said, I had a moral imperative to learn to play and perform on it.
Making my mind up to play the flute was one thing; actually accomplishing it was another. I had to start by figuring out the pitch of the flute, so I used an app recommended by Michael Lynn, a leading world expert on historical flutes and a professor at the Oberlin College Conservatory of Music. Playing the flute with the guitar is ideal because Paul can tune down to the instrument’s pitch. Beyond this, I had to learn some different fingerings for notes than what is used by modern flutists today. You can find many fingering charts for simple-system flutes and work through scales and simple exercises to learn them—but applying them to music that you’re learning on a new instrument is a matter of putting in focused hours (and hours and hours) of practice.
The flute is made of lead crystal and is in unrestored condition. It is pitched at A=430, below today’s modern pitch, which means that Paul and I make special adjustments to play together. Made in Paris in 1816, its crown contains a large, faceted quartz crystal. The keys are sterling, the bore frosted, and the exterior decoratively cut.
I have a few rules about playing this very special flute. First, I only take it out when I’m well-rested and energized, because dropping it will break it. Though I usually stand while practicing, I always sit while playing the crystal flute, so that if I do slip, the flute falls into my lap. I also never have anyone else in the room with me during practice—except, of course, when I’m rehearsing with Paul. Lastly, I put a large sheepskin over the feet of my metal music stand as an extra layer of protection.
I have loved playing my Laurent crystal flute and I hope you enjoy hearing it too, in person or on our upcoming recording.
Our upcoming crystal flute album
As we plan for our 2022 album recording, we’ve issued a Call for Scores for crystal flute and guitar. What’s a Call for Scores? Think of it as a formal invitation for composers to pitch us their ideas for new music. Thirty-two composers from around the world have thrown their hats in the ring with forty interesting ideas for pieces. We’re in the process of reviewing their ideas now to choose the five or so who will join composer Gary Schocker, who has already written Crystal Healing (2016) specifically for us to celebrate this flute’s 200th year.
We’ve noticed that our performances with this flute have consistently drawn larger, more diverse audiences. Because of this, we believe this recording project is an important strategy for our audience development mission, and we look forward to bringing the beautiful sounds of this historic flute to life through the creativity of living composers. We can’t wait to share it with you.
Commission Distributes $834,000 in American Rescue Plan Act Funds to 278 nonprofits
Valparaiso-based classical flute and guitar chamber music ensemble Duo Sequenza is proud to announce that it is one of 278 nonprofits across the state of Indiana selected as recipients of American Rescue Plan Act funds. The Indiana Arts Commission announced this week that it has distributed $834,000 statewide through the agency’s Arts Recovery Program with additional National Endowment for the Arts Funds through Arts Midwest, Indiana’s regional partner.
Based in Northwest Indiana, Duo Sequenza is an internationally lauded concert artist chamber ensemble featuring Debra Silvert, flute of Valparaiso, and Paul Bowman, classical guitar, a native of Chesterton. Duo Sequenza will use its funds to support marketing efforts, integral to its strategic audience development for today’s classical music.
“As we look toward recovery and the return of live concerts to the stage,” flutist Debra Silvert said, “it’s essential to the future and vitality of our ensemble that we continue to connect with our audiences and build our marketing efforts. We are deeply grateful to the Indiana Arts Commission and Arts Midwest for their support.”
“We are proud to partner with the National Endowment for the Arts and Arts Midwest to support the arts organizations across Indiana that are playing a key role in the recovery from the pandemic,” said Lewis Ricci, Indiana Arts Commission Executive Director, in the commission’s release announcing funding. “This funding is a recognition of the value that the creative sector provides to the economic and social health of our state and nation.”
These funds are intended to support arts organizations through what has been a very difficult period for artists. Funds support salaries, fees and stipends, costs associated with health and safety equipment, and marketing and promotion costs. Before funds were awarded, nonprofits were evaluated for their ability to advance the arts, provide relevant activities and access to the arts, and operate through June 2022. Duo Sequenza was awarded $3,000 by the commission.
“We are so excited to get back to live music performances,” said guitarist Paul Bowman. “The Indiana Arts Commission’s support of our state’s artists and communities is incredibly powerful—and as musicians with Indiana roots who love performing in this state, we couldn’t be more appreciative of the support.”