Ask any working classical musician what the most difficult part of their work life is, and you’ll rarely hear about the music. In some ways (but not all), the music is the easy part. It’s the business of music that’s the hard part. This is because a working classical musician is much more than a professional performer. We’re entrepreneurs juggling multiple priorities and projects at once. As we like to say, our professional lives are where musicianship meets entrepreneurship.
Practicing is one part of the day
As students and young musicians, we think practicing is going to be the focus of our days. Here, the old saying “there are no shortcuts to the top” rings true: you simply have to put in the time to learn to play your instrument and to reach a level of mastery where the physicality of the instrument becomes secondary to your ability to express the music through it.
This takes years and years of solitary practice, of auditions and lessons and rehearsals and performances. And even once we attain mastery, we have to maintain it, which takes dedicated hours each day (a minimum of three for Debra and five for Paul). When we add rehearsing and teaching into our days, we might have our instruments in hand for seven, eight or even more hours.
Entrepreneurship in classical music
Classical musicians choose a number of paths to make a living in this profession. Some of us win jobs in symphony orchestras or opera orchestras. Many more of us, though, have built careers where we’re doing a number of things at once, from touring to teaching and recording, all while scanning the horizon for more opportunities—for next season and the future. This is when musicianship meets entrepreneurship, because being entrepreneurial is all about seeing an opportunity and putting yourself (and your music) in the right place at the right time. But it doesn’t happen alone. It takes careful observation and research, and lots of networking and creativity.
Sometimes opportunities find us, through referral or a past connection, but more often they come because we go out seeking them. Because of this reality, a day in the life of a classical musician starts to look a bit more like a day in the life of a sales and marketing professional. We’re looking for opportunities (in marketing they’d be called leads), and then we hope to strike up a conversation with the presenter or the performing space or the event director. We want to make a meaningful connection to the market that the presenting organization or event serves: the audience. Because a working classical musician lives in the present as well as in the future, this kind of activity is a constant for us. We’re living through today but we’re well into planning what’s on our schedules later in this season, the next, and the next after that.
We’re also juggling the day-to-day chaos as our schedules shift—something familiar to any entrepreneur. In non-COVID times, this might be because a student needed to move a lesson, or a rehearsal got rescheduled, or the sound check at a touring venue needs to be pushed back, or because our session at the recording studio was changed. Even the most organized among us can’t completely control the chaos, no matter how hard we try.
In addition to managing our daily and long-term schedules, we have to make time for marketing and communications (email inboxes, social media channels), administration (like reviewing contact details or negotiating payment), and planning (selecting repertoire, commissioning composers, and choosing the pieces for our next recording project).
Nothing compares to live music
Of course, this is the familiar rhythm of a life in music before the COVID-19 pandemic hit. For the last 15 months, though, we haven’t been able to be together with our listeners. The pandemic has silenced the world’s concert halls and opera halls. It’s emptied our performing spaces and put us all on Zoom. Simply put, the catastrophe of COVID has hit the performing arts, especially classical music, in devastating ways, from the loss of livelihood to the lack of human connection on which we musicians thrive. While today’s technology makes human connection in the time of COVID-19 possible in so many ways, it’s just not the same for music. You simply do not have the same experience as hearing music live, in a hushed and darkened concert hall.
This is what we live for, the moments of transcendence and magic that we can only share with our audiences live, in a concert. It’s what we wake up thinking about each day, and what we keep in mind as we work through the business of being a classical musician. It’s what we hope to share with each of you as we emerge from the last year into brighter days ahead. What’s the one thing about the last year we might hope to hold onto? More time to practice.
About Duo Sequenza
Comprised of flutist Debra Silvert and classical guitarist Paul Bowman, Duo Sequenza is a flute and classical guitar concert artist chamber music ensemble. Their dynamic performances have received enthusiastic ovations from audiences throughout the U.S., Europe, and Asia. They record for Navona Records.
Duo Sequenza founded Sequenza Chamber Music, Inc, a nonprofit entity in 2018 to further its mission to organically develop audiences for today's classical music by promoting the works of living composers.
"You just had to BE there!" When words fall short to describe the experience, that's often what we say. How much more so when we're talking about classical music!
As the least tangible of the arts, music is truly gestalt. In a concert situation, it's all about the present! It's happening; the art is happening right then, right there, right now. As each note is played, it lasts only for its indicated length, and then it's gone...never to be heard quite the same way again.
When I practice, I like to strive to never play any one note the same way twice. Each and every note that appears in the score has its own raison d'etre...a special purpose that only it can fulfill. Each and every note has a unique relationship with its neighbors; those nestled beside it in the melody, and those supporting and surrounding it in the harmony. It's my job to discover the nature of those myriad relationships. My purpose is to give every note the life its composer imagined for it. That being said, how I understand the composer's intent is always going to be colored by my own mood, my own ideas, my own experiences. If I'm really able to be true to myself, I'll be in touch with all of that while remaining fully present in each musical moment. My moods, ideas, and experiences are always changing...and that's why my playing is always changing. Finally, when I have practiced sufficiently to feel I'm in some sort of meaningful communication with my composer, I have the awesome privilege to share that communication with yet another someone...my duo partner, Paul.
As musicians, Paul and I each spend hundreds of hours practicing in solitude. When the music starts to emerge and come alive, my experience is that it just longs to be heard by another set of ears. This is why it's always so exciting for Paul and me when we first start rehearsing a new program. It's the first time either of us have had the opportunity to share what's been happening in our respective practice rooms for all those many hours. Rehearsals present us with an altogether new experience of the music. Synergy emerges in all its glory. Because our pieces are so thinly scored, each of us has the opportunirty to express our own artistic experience of the music with a great deal of freedom. This new, three way conversation between composer, flutist and classical guitarist adds a whole new dimension that we discover and develop together at this stage. But while our rehearsals can be very musically satisfying, it's simply not meant to stop there.
The whole of any chamber music piece is far more lovely and profound than the mere sum of its parts. What audiences rarely realize is that they become an integral part of the musical experience specifically by virtue of their presence in the concert hall as listeners. Make no mistake...as performers, we are deeply tuned in to your energy at that moment in that space. There is a feedback loop of sorts that comes into play in the concert hall, creating a four way communication between the composer, each of us and you! The more of you that are present to listen, the more communication there is going on...yet, miraculously, while everyone hears and relates to the music a little bit differently, creating many kinds of "conversations," what ultimately emerges is a harmonious experience...a rich consonance that binds us all together in that time in that space. We care if you listen because you enhance our experience of the music, making it continuously fresh. We believe that for the listener, an audio recording serves merely as a reminder of the gestalt of the live concert. And when we record, we have to do so without benefit of your input!
Just two weeks ago, it was announced that scientists had at last beheld actual evidence of a gravitational wave, the existence of which had been predicted by Einstein's theory of relativity. This evidence has rocked the physics world, and is likely the most significant discovery in astronomy since E=mc2. This evidence was NOT visual...it was HEARD across the vastness of the Universe. In writing about this, Michael Daly of The Daily Beast wrote, "The cosmos are more fully heard than seen; sound tells you more than sight; the listener, not the beholder, is supreme." I think he makes a great case for the importance of listening to classical music! Ultimately, we can all be connected to one another, and to the Universe in all its vastness, in those moments of time spent together in the sacred space of the concert hall.
Duo Sequenza's operating paradigm is that classical music has something vital and uniquely rewarding to offer every individual. Our tagline, "Chamber Music to Move Your Mind & Nourish Your Soul," speaks to our strong belief in classical music’s transformative power. Although most human beings possess two working ears (that being the only prerequisite for listening to music of any genre), today’s classical music audiences consist largely of individuals with some degree of formal background in music. It seems that classical music is perceived by much of the public as being elitist, leading to its being ruled out as an activity that might be meaningful or enjoyable, if it even makes it onto people’s activities radar.
It seems to us that much of the problem may have to do with folks thinking they don’t “get” classical music. News flash: you do “get it.” You just don’t realize that you do.
Today’s society is suffering a plague of shortened attention spans. Screens are ubiquitous everywhere. We live our days to the accompaniment of device after device, often too connected to technology to connect with one another. But you already know that.
Paul and I both came from non-musical families; Paul’s dad was an ironworker and my mom the bookkeeper at a Buick dealership. These kinds of “working class” families, at least in our personal experience, didn’t go out of their way to immerse themselves in cultural arts. Yet, for each of us, even though we didn’t claim to “get it,” once we were exposed to serious art music, we were hooked. Our respective paucities of classical music exposure did not deter us from developing our passions for the art form.
“Music for the People” is the tagline of Classical Revolution, a grassroots movement of world class musicians that are changing the demographics of today’s classical audiences. By performing informal concerts in non-traditional venues, they are transforming communities as they alter the erroneous perception of classical music as elitist.
Our upcoming 3rd season, “Blurring Boundaries,” at the Memorial Opera House in Valparaiso, Indiana, will consist of three new concerts of the finest literature written for flute and classical guitar, and will feature other artistic disciplines as well! Prior to each concert, we’ll do a series of informal outreach programs in non-traditional venues to demystify our art form and demonstrate that contemporary classical music has something valuable and relevant to offer you!
Bring your ears to a chamber music concert, and open your mind to a new experience. Let us show you how this music can be the lemon sorbet cleansing your palette between the courses of your harried life. It’s called an intermezzo!
Neophyte listeners of classical music tell us they often experience a sense of bewilderment over what they should be listening for in serious art music. Let’s look at some ways to begin to approach this most elusive of the performance arts.
In an earlier blog post, “Live Performance,” I explained a bit about my artistic process in learning a new piece of music. First off, you need to understand that music is not contained in a printed score. Music is made in a moment, in a place; an island in time and space.
As musicians, Paul and I are deeply honored by your presence in our concert hall. This tells us that you’ve decided to trust us to guide you on a journey of sorts. It’s a big responsibility. For the most part, you don’t know where this journey may lead. You may not even understand why you suddenly find yourself embarking on such a journey. It’s our mission to join with you as together we transcend the mundane. The starting point of this journey will be the bare-bones communication of a printed score through which the composer has attempted to capture certain intangibles of human experience.
Some pieces are “about” something; they have a theme that offers an entry point for the listener. Some don’t supply such a sign post. Either way, we, as artists, and you, as listeners, each bring our own experiences and our own selves into the music, together creating something altogether new each time.
The art of listening can be distilled down to the simplicity of this: openness. Regardless of my and Paul’s detailed knowledge of the musical score in front of us, we each revel in having a new experience of the music with every performance. We never know quite what to expect from the music, and here’s the key: Neither should you.
That bears repeating. Just as in life, in classical music, we should never know what to expect. We human beings are in a constant state of flux. We find ourselves in varying degrees of harmony or disharmony with the world around us. Who we are and how we are, in any given moment, is going to inform how we experience the music we are hearing. Focused, attentive listening, without expectation, offers a unique opportunity for us to become, for just 90 minutes in the concert hall, a real human being instead of a human doing. When it comes right down to it, listening and experiencing live classical music in the gestalt of time and space binds us together as a community, and enhances our common human experience. It’s sort of like meditating in a group.
We urge you to become a listening artist! Bring your ears to the concert hall, and open your mind and heart to partake in the nourishment of your whole self. Permit the sound to suffuse your soul to its deepest levels. Simply put, there’s no right or wrong of ‘what or how’ when we speak of listening to classical music. At the core of it, there’s only our common experience as human beings. Bring yourself to the conversation. It’s a three-way; between the composer, the artists, and the listener. We need you to make this special thing we call music. After all, if great music is performed by passionate artists, but no one is there to hear it, has any music been made at all?