Tag Archives: me probably making a fool of myself

2014 Advent Calendar

Hey guys, it’s that time of year again:

Advent Calendar Time!

The blog has a long and proud tradition (and by “long and proud tradition,” I mean “a tradition that began on Tumblr in December 2012”) of Advent-calendar-making.

So I threw another together this year, just because it’s fun. Every day from now until December 24, a new entry will be posted at the calendar. This year features a variety of my favorite wintry musical selections (some of which were chosen by readers!), as well as various memories from the past year. A new entry goes up every morning at 6AM. I hope you enjoy the pieces and maybe find a performance or two that is new to you. So be sure to bookmark the calendar and keep coming back throughout December: sotladventcalendar.tumblr.com.

My attempt to make the world's most annoying holiday SOTL Blingee ever. Animated Christmas cats, guys!

My attempt to make the most annoying holiday SOTL Blingee ever. Animated Christmas cats, guys! AWW!

And since I’m using the same Tumblr account that I used last year, you can even scroll back to read 2013’s calendar. Can you CONTAIN your EXCITEMENT?

Also one more tip: the Minnesota Orchestra has a Cyber Monday sale going, and most 2015 tickets are 50% off, so you might want to check that out. Even if you have all the seats you need for this season, tickets are a great gift idea.

If the thought of the holidays or holiday music makes you want to strangle kittens, stay tuned, because there’s a lot more non-holiday content coming. I actually think this December might be my content-heaviest month of 2o14… Right now I’m sitting on a whole clutch of rough drafts.


who is apparently an elf now

and a hen


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In Search of a Plausible Story

People in my social media circles are slitting their wrists over the following probing blog entry from SOTL reader Paul Cantrell: When a tree falls.

Read the whole thing. I’ll wait.

Paul makes an alarmingly convincing case that we’re all screwed:

No, my heart is unmoved: this tree has already fallen.

Orchestrate Excellence, you’ve been by far the most constructive and reasonable voice in this mess. Can you tell a plausible story of how this works out?

Board members, some of you argued to me this week quite vehemently that you haven’t failed yet. Can you tell a plausible story of how this works out?

SOS Minnesota, you’re still brandishing the torches and pitchforks of the good fight as if the fight is not already lost. Can you tell a plausible story of how this works out?

Musicians, even after all you’ve been through, two thirds of you have not yet jumped ship. Bless you for your strength and optimism, but pray tell, why not? Can you tell a plausible story of how this works out?

Somebody needs to tell that story, or else fatalism will self-fulfill.


Fatalism, Sherlock style

Just like you can’t kill Sherlock Holmes, you can’t kill the Minnesota Orchestra. It will continue to exist in some form. The only question is, what form of Minnesota Orchestra do you want to support – or do you want to support a Minnesota Orchestra at all?

I’ve thought about this. A lot. For like, a year. At this point, I think every person is going to have to make a decision which end-game s/he wants to embrace. Here are the three end games, and their pros and cons as I see them:

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Save Our Symphony Rally

I was invited to speak at Save Our Symphony Minnesota’s rally “Ending the Lockout Will Be A Ball.” Details here. I mean it when I say it’s a tremendous honor to have been asked. I also mean it when I say it’s incredibly awkward to be asked to speak, when Michael Henson is going to be a few hundred feet away, not listening to any of us, and attempting to raise hundreds of thousands of dollars for a non-existent orchestra, and maybe coming up with a condescending soundbite to give to the press about us.

We have indeed entered The Twilight Zone.

This will be the weirdest Symphony Ball in human history. There will be no symphony. Michael Henson, Jon Campbell, and Richard Davis will be ensconced inside (obviously). There will be security personnel milling about to protect vulnerable donors from The Union. The tents have already sprung up in Peavey Plaza. Some of the wilder rumors circulating include suggestions that windows are being darkened and shrubbery is being rented to shield the people who are fundraising for the orchestra…from the orchestra. As I always say, what’s the use of a $50 million glass lobby if you can’t obscure it with shrubbery and dark window cling? Yeah, that’s right: there is no point.

Anyway, SOSMN is having a rally to show support for the…I don’t even know what to call it at this point. I want to say “the orchestra”, but there’s this idea circulating that the musicians aren’t the orchestra, so… We’re there supporting the people who play great orchestral music in Minneapolis; let’s say that. There will be musicians there, friends there, families there. Some people will be dressed in gowns and tuxes. Others will be in sweaters and sweatshirts. It’s not going to be that structured…just a fun time milling about in downtown Minneapolis with some really fabulous first-rate music in all sorts of genres. We’re not out to vilify anybody. Just want to have a great time, chatting, dancing, singing, and listening. If our presence makes the board uncomfortable, then that’s not our problem, frankly. It’s about time they remember there’s an audience out there, because they sure haven’t listened to us so far!

Here’s an approximate visual representation of how I’m thinking this party will go down.

  • Arrhythmic dancing
  • A band
  • A guy in a suit
  • A guy in a sweatshirt
  • More dancing
  • Singalongs
  • Random hugs

I can’t guarantee there will be scantily clad dancers, pyro, or an abominable snowman with Shake Weights, but other than that, I think it’ll be very similar!

“Partyin’ partyin’! YEAH! Partyin’ partyin’ YEAH! FUN FUN FUN FUN!!!”

Well, I’ve slipped in my token Colbert reference for the week. Hope to see you Friday night in Minneapolis.


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Blast from the Past

I started this blog on May 13, 2011, so…happy second birthday, blog.

Back in a time when I was lucky to get five views a day, I wrote an essay that I hoped would be a sort of thesis statement for everything that would follow. Since many of you are interested in hearing a bit about why or how I was drawn to blogging, I thought I’d share the link. Given everything that’s transpired since, it’s a bit disorienting – in a good way, I think – maybe – to read again.

Indulgent Claptrap: or, how this blog came to be

I wish I could tell my self of two years ago how many lovely, lovely people I’d meet over the course of this project. Then again, I know I wouldn’t believe it.

I hope to spend many more years in y’all’s company. Thank you for being so generous with your attention and your love. If there’s anything I can do for you, let me know.


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Some Dorky Musings on Endowment Sizes And Base Salaries

I worked up some charts yesterday, both to gain insight into the Minnesota Orchestral Association’s math, and to prove (once again) that I am a massive nerd with absolutely no life whatsoever. I used numbers gleaned from Wikipedia’s list of the population of American metro areas, this list the Strib published of orchestra base salaries, and a chart the Minnesota musicians made about other orchestras’ endowment sizes.

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Analysis of the MOA’s 1/2 Press Release

Hey, kids! It’s time for another edition of Analyze This Press Release! As always, “Analyze This Press Release” is brought to you by Song of the Lark, the Minnesota Orchestral Association, and my obsessive nature.

The press release I’ll be analyzing today is the MOA’s most recent:

Minnesota Orchestra Board outlines four points to initiate progress in negotiations with Musicians’ Union

This headline makes it sounds like the musicians have been unwilling to talk, off on a tropical beach somewhere playing volleyball and sipping tequila, but…okay. If you need to save face by making the MOA look like the hero, be my guest.

 The Minnesota Orchestra Board Negotiating Committee and Musicians’ Union representatives met this afternoon in a productive three-hour session, the first held since contract talks broke off on September 30. On December 21, the Orchestra Board invited the musicians to a meeting in early January, with no preconditions, in order to restart negotiations.

How generous of the MOA!

Something else happened on December 21st, too…I’m trying to remember exactly what…oh, yes, that’s right, the MOA replied to fourteen angry state representatives who had contacted the MOA in early December wanting to know if the MOA had misused public money. But I am sure there is no connection whatsoever between these letters and the MOA’s new offer. Do carry on.

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Hundred-ish Questions Send-off!

Hello dear readers!

I just wanted to let you know that today I sent out three packages containing my Hundred-ish Questions for Minnesota Orchestra management. I made a little video last night showing everybody what I put into them…

Sorry I look so tired here. In case you haven’t noticed, I’ve been blogging a lot lately… :)

Here’s a PDF of the file I sent out. As you can see, it’s basically the same thing as what’s in my blog entry, with a few tiny tweaks.

And here’s a copy of the receipt, with my phone number whited out…

So there’s proof I sent it out! And yes, I did spend $25+ on this likely fruitless endeavor. (I was picking up the 16x16x16 box for someone else, but the $3.29 “retail package sales” was for tape because I’m poor and all I had were old crappy manila envelopes that needed more than my spit to stay stuck for more than ten seconds.) The fact that I so readily spend such a large percentage of my income on this type of quixotic quest is probably one reason I’m not as wealthy as Campbell or Davis.

Unfortunately, my computer keeps telling me I still have files to burn. Whut? This obviously leaves me thinking, um, did those files actually burn? I thought they did, but…if they didn’t burn…and management puts in the CDs and there’s actually nothing on them…well, awk-ward. This wouldn’t be the first time technology has let me down. [Edit 9/20: Thanks to a reader comment, I realized this sounded like I didn’t check the discs before I sent them. I did. See comment section here for a discussion of the particular weird issues I have with my particular weird laptop.] BUT I did put my blog’s address in the PDF, and I’m guessing that Michael Henson at least has (maybe) (possibly?) heard some vague rumblings of this blog’s existence, so… One way or another, management should find a way to get those questions, unless they’re really really stupid. They can’t deny a paper copy didn’t get delivered, anyhow. In a last-ditch effort to entice Campbell and Davis and Henson and their colleagues here, I’ll sticky an awesome colorful greeting at the top of the blog. Ooo, shiny.

The guy at Pak Mail said it should be in Minneapolis by Monday or Tuesday. For what that’s worth.

Anyway! That’s today’s news.

I’m not sure what to expect (absolutely nothing?) but at least we tried.

I’m working on some other stuff, too. It’s interesting what’s all online about various people. If you know where to look. *shrug*


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Just a quick fyi

Hello dear friends,

First off I want to thank y’all for following this blog. I’ve been blown away by the reception these entries have gotten and I feel so very, very lucky to know I’m a part of a world where people love orchestral music so very, very much.

Second, I wanted to let you know that I got an email this morning from Facebook, extending their condolences that I was having trouble logging into my account. Only thing is, I hadn’t been trying to log into my account… :/ It may have been a total coincidence – or a technical snafu – I’m not accusing anyone of anything – I just wanted you all to be aware that if things would fall silent here without explanation, or if I start sounding not like myself, or saying things wildly opposite of what I have been saying…or if this post disappears…keep in mind I may well have been hacked. I’m taking all the precautions I can, but I want to put this post out there on the .001% chance something unfortunate does happen. Once again, not accusing anyone of anything…I just thought better safe than sorry.

Take care, all.

With gratitude, Emily


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Is Minnesota Orchestra management lying to us?

I’ve ended each day this week by sharing any and all Orchestral Apocalypse ‘012 news with my mother. She wants to be kept up to speed with the situation; she feels just as emotionally, intellectually, and spiritually invested in the Twin Cities orchestral scene as I do.

Last night I was explaining to her about the artistic goals in the Minnesota Orchestra’s Strategic Business Plan Summary. I told her there was a section devoted to “key targets for artistic programming.”

“What are those targets?” she asked.

I opened the document and read them off. “Symphony orchestra of the highest caliber.”

“That doesn’t seem very realistic if management has their way,” she said. “Won’t a lot of musicians leave?”

“Outstanding classical concerts in Orchestra Hall,” I read.

She considered. “They might be outstanding, but they probably won’t be as outstanding as they have been.”

“National & international touring to significant venues…”

“Why would they want to tour if they have so many subs? Wouldn’t that be embarrassing?”

“Live at Orchestra Hall series to feature popular & jazz artists.”

We both shrugged; we don’t care for most popular and jazz artists enough to warrant a two-hour drive to Minneapolis. We can see those here in Eau Claire.

“Exceptional artistic leaders & guest artists…”

“Will they want to work with a demoralized disorganized orchestra?”

“Vital summer & holiday festivals.”

“Meh. Depends what’s on the program, I guess…”

“New concert formats & content.”

“What does that mean?”

“Forward-looking digital and traditional media initiatives to reach broad audiences & raise visibility.”

“Sounds good, but if the quality of the orchestra goes down the crapper, do they really want to be broadcasting that?”

I was going to flip the page forward to read more but I accidentally clicked backward, to this page, and there I found a sentence that I hadn’t read before. And it made me stop dead in my tracks.

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Mulling Over Mahler

Most of my practice time lately has been spent prepping the forty-odd-page viola part to Mahler 6. I’ve listened to the piece once a day since I learned I’d be playing it, and I’m now wrestling with a very basic question: do I, or do I not, like this music? I listen again and again, trying to discern some kind of narrative in this ninety-minute mass.

Okay, kids. Gather round.

The first movement begins with a march. It seems to presage the Great War with its grandiose character of pomp, brass, and militaristic pageantry. The grandiosity, however, intimidates more than it inspires. The melodies seep a kind of brave, romantic defiance. They are beautiful at first listen, unnerving at second, and terrifying by twentieth. A strange, listless chorale comes and goes. After five long minutes, just when the thirst for musical violence finally seems to have been quenched, the brutal opening is…repeated. And not just partially so: it is completely, totally, turn-the-score-back-to-the-beginning repeated, with all the strength and savagery of the first go-through. Eventually, a full ten minutes after starting off, we finally move on, but even then the same vicious mood persists for quite a while. After a long protest the music slides into a kind of dreamy moonscape, lit by high tremolo, soft woodwinds, magical celesta. But the dream’s seductive beauty never feels quite right; the memory of that march is always lurking. When the dreamer is awoken, abruptly and without mercy, the militaristic sounds returns, apparently inescapable, inevitable. Things come to a terrifying head at 16:50, when one of the majestic primary themes is twisted in the grandest, most terrifying manner imaginable. As the movement comes to a close, the moods wildly seesaw between heavenly and hellish, wrapping up with a manic, wild-eyed sprint to the finish.

At this point, twenty-five minutes into the symphony, an emotional respite would be more than welcome. (Hint, hint, Mr. Mahler.) Chances are, however, you’re not getting one; many conductors opt to move on to the weighty mid-tempo scherzo instead. (I questioned this decision when I first listened to this piece. Surely the slow movement should be put here, I thought, so I can take a breather from that massive introduction! But then when I found out – spoiler alert! – that the last movement was even bigger than the first, I quickly changed my mind.) At first glance the score looks relatively simple…until you realize that every line contains a new rhythmic pitfall with the capability to derail your whole performance. The emphasis hops from first beats to third beats; fourth beats are sprinkled throughout; the tempo yanks back and forth. The only way I’ve found to keep it all half-straight is by screaming “ONE!!! two three ONE!!! two three” in my head in an attempt to ignore that frequently off-balance third (or fourth) beat. Mahler’s wife Alma famously compared the rhythm of this movement to children playing. As you listen, the metaphor seems apt, even charming…until the orchestra’s bows begin playing a spooky col legno passage, conjuring up the image of little clattering skeletons.

Well, you might say. Bleak ambiguity only goes so far. Things have to start feeling a little more optimistic in the third movement (at 39:30). Right? Wrong. Here we get a theme that is neither major nor minor, neither happy nor sad, neither hopeful nor hopeless, neither yearning nor satisfied…neither black nor white. The only indisputable thing about it is that it is achingly, impossibly beautiful.

So. Apparently Mahler was waiting until the last movement – roughly an hour into the symphony – to express the inevitable heroism, certitude, catharsis, that we’ve come to expect from our monumental symphonic music post-Beethoven.


It certainly seems that way when, at the beginning of the final movement, an emphatic line rises from a misty tremolo (55:00). The stage seems set for a grand resolution indeed. However, before long we realize there will be no straightforward Beethovenian triumph. Instead we find ourselves skidding down the rails on a fast, frantic, frenetic ride, clearly uncontrollable (59:00). This is music determined to charge the gates of hell…regardless of the futility of the task.

Then the terrifying militaristic percussion from the first movement comes back…as well as the creepy celesta-laced dreamscapes. There are some uncomfortable moments of deja vu. We’ve tread a lot of water in the past ninety minutes, but you have to wonder: have we really gotten anywhere?

Then, if you were delusional enough to think you had any idea where this was all going, a percussionist raises a person-sized hammer above their head, and you realize, well, clearly all bets are off. At this point absolutely anything could happen and it wouldn’t be surprising.

In case you haven’t heard how Mahler 6 wraps up, I’ll save you the surprise and stop there. Next time you have ninety minutes to spare, look it up. Just make sure you’re not suicidal at the time.

I’ve read so many conflicting opinions about this symphony. Some feel it’s Mahler’s masterpiece. Others see it as seriously flawed: maybe fatally so. Some find it to be fatally flawed…and yet cite it as their favorite anyway. It is said that Mahler cried at the first rehearsals for it, unable to come to terms with what he’d unleashed. Alma alleged that the hammer blows prophesied the catastrophes that would later shake their marriage. Heck, even now, a hundred plus years after its composition, we can’t even agree about something as fundamental as what order to put the movements in. I imagine I’ll get a dozen comments on this post sharply disagreeing with my opinions, and with everybody else’s. Because that’s just the kind of conflicted reaction this massive music seems to engender.

Personally, I go from loving it to loathing it back to loving it again…sometimes within the span of a few measures. Nothing about it is clear. Everything is difficult. A forceful ambiguity reigns supreme. Mahler assembles us in the concert hall, asks humanity’s most important questions, raises an envelope, announces all the answers are within, takes out a sharpened knife, carefully slits open the flap…

And then throws the envelope into a raging bonfire.

What to think?


Yesterday I said to my mother, impulsively, “I haven’t felt well lately.”

“In what way?” she asked.

“Mm,” I said.

“How don’t you feel well?” she pressed.

I thought for a moment. “I don’t know,” I said, and I didn’t. I wished I hadn’t even mentioned it.

A moment passed.

“Maybe it’s all the Mahler I’ve been playing,” I finally said.

I’d said it as a joke. But as soon as the words were out, I realized they had an uncomfortable ring of truth to them, and I frowned.

I thought she’d laugh at me, but she didn’t. “That could very well be,” she said, and we both fell quiet for a while.


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