Tag Archives: wow a blog post with under 1000 words

Hartford Symphony: What’s Next?

Today is a big day in the Connecticut arts scene. Absent major musician concessions, tomorrow the Hartford Symphony will begin the process of “clos[ing] its doors – for good.” Today’s firm deadline has been repeated in the press again and again and again.

hartford symphony

Less clear, however: what management means by shutting down. Not giving concerts? (A lockout?) Bankruptcy? (What kind?) Dissolving? Or destroying the old organization to create a new one in its wake? No one in the mainstream media has asked.

Here are some more questions that have been bugging me:

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Filed under Labor Disputes

2015 Roundup

Well, that was a year.

That existed.

That is now over.

Thank f*ck.


Do I get a prize for surviving??

I don’t have much time to write – I’m entertaining today, and I’m going to the Minnesota Orchestra New Year’s show tonight – but I had a few tidbits I wanted to share before the celebration starts.

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Filed under My Writing

Dead Women Are Dead To American Orchestras

If you spend any time in the online orchestra world, you’ve probably seen the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra’s infographic about American orchestras’ 2014/15 seasons. A few days ago, the BSO released figures tracking the 15/16 season, and this year, the data net has been cast even wider. Writer Ricky O’Bannon describes the methodology:

This season we collected programming data for both major American symphonies as well as smaller regional orchestras — 89 in total — to give a more holistic view of symphonic repertoire in the United States.

My thoughts after reading that:

Oh, cool! With so many more orchestras included in the data-gathering this year, surely the proportion of living and historic women composers has skyrocketed, or at least inched upward gradually!

Hahahaha. Hahahahahahahaha.

Last season, the works of female composers accounted for 14.3% of the performances of living composers (and a mere 1.8% of the performances overall). This year, even with the wider field? 14% and 1.7%, respectively.

And then there’s this little asterisk at the bottom of the graph.

every composer

*deep breath*


Look, I know it’s hard for orchestras to program works outside The Canon. And at this point, pretty much every orchestral work by women is outside The Canon. But no one in the bunch of eighty-nine orchestras wanted to program a single work by a female composer once? No one thought that would be musically or historically or politically or culturally interesting? No one thought that would be unique or exciting? No one thought that would be fantastic press release material? No one thought that would excite donors? No one thought that would advance orchestras’ missions to broaden audiences or educate communities? No one saw this as The Easiest Way Ever to outperform peer organizations? For crap’s sake, a random orchestra could program a dead lady’s ten-minute overture once, and wow, suddenly they’re playing 100% more historic women than any other orchestra in America! Congratulations, random orchestra! Your commitment to underrepresented demographics is palpable.

download (1)

The 2015 Song of the Lark Award for Demographically Diverse Orchestral Programming

And hell, it’s not like I’m asking every orchestra to throw an annual month-long Vagina Festival. It just would have been nice to see one orchestra play one work by one woman at one point. I thought that someone, somewhere, would throw us a pity Gaelic Symphony or Farrenc third or Clara Schumann concerto. But, nope.

Anyway. I would love to offer probing analysis. But it’s pretty f***ing hard to analyze the number zero.


Filed under Women In Music

2015 Advent Calendar

Welcome to the 2015 Song of the Lark Advent calendar! Every day until Christmas Eve, a new entry will go live at www.sotladventcalendar.tumblr.com. Each includes a 2015 blog memory, as well as a piece of holiday music. (You can also go back in time and read blog highlights and hear musical selections from previous years’ calendars. Navigate through the archives by using the arrows on the left side of the calendar.)

This season’s calendar was therapeutic to assemble… The illness and death of my mother made 2015 the worst year of my life, by far. (2015, may the door hit your ass on the way out. Hard.) I apologize again for not writing more the last few months. But my mind has been cloudy.


The other day I read through a big chunk of the SOTL archives. Some pieces I still like; some are more meh; but I was proud to see that I’ve never insulted a topic by not caring about it. Better days are coming, both in my personal life and on the blog. I think my capacity for caring is slowly returning, and I’m cautiously optimistic about the new life that awaits in 2016.

Which is fitting, I guess. After all, the idea of Advent is about looking inward, taking stock, and preparing for the arrival of new life: a New Year, and a new start.

Cheers. *raises champagne glass*

If holiday music is your thing, I hope you check out the link above every day. I’ll put up another post around New Year’s in case you want to browse the whole thing at once. And please feel free to share the names of your favorite winter / holiday pieces in the comment section! 2016 will be here before we know it, and after four years of calendars (can you believe it??), I’m reaching the outer edges of my winter-related repertoire, haha.

Happy holidays, merry Christmas, and/or a blessed New Year’s to you and yours! Thank you for giving me the greatest gift of all…your readership. It sounds hokey, but I mean it with every inch of my heart.

With deep appreciation, Emily

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Filed under My Writing

Balanced Budget Celebration!

The Minnesota Orchestra will report a balanced budget for FY 2015.

I’ve got one phrase for this:


Some excerpts from the press release, accompanied by reaction gifs.

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Filed under Minnesota Orchestra

Microreview: Minnesota Orchestra in Griffes, Rachmaninoff, and Stravinsky

Not a single professional reviewer discussed the concert this week, so I’ll throw out my word count limit.


This week the Minnesota Orchestra’s program featured three pieces I’ve never sat down to listen to in their entirety: The Pleasure Dome of Kubla-Kahn by Charles Griffes, Rachmaninoff third concerto, and…the Rite of Spring. I know. You’re allowed to crucify me. It’s probably the single most unforgivable blind spot I have.

Conductor Michael Stern was on the podium. I have to transcribe what he said in his brief pre-performance address because I don’t want his words vanishing into the Mists of Time. He was talking about how the works on the program had the force of tradition behind them, yet all three struck out on new paths of their own…

And ladies and gentlemen, I must say publicly, this is the way I see the Minnesota Orchestra: with its long tradition, with its great history, yet now they are on the precipice of inventing something new. And there is a very good reason for that. They have great leadership. You have a great music director. You have a community that believes in music. But you also have these incredible musicians who, despite the recent past, exhibit a kind of bonding solidarity and a commitment to craft and art and a devotion to making great music happen for this city and for the entire region which I know, from my personal experience, and from all my colleagues, is nothing short of inspiring. And you are lucky to have them in your city.

[applause] [applause] [applause]

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Filed under Minnesota Orchestra, Reviews

Happy New Year

My favorite performance from the Song of the Lark Advent calendar. Ella Fitzgerald in “What Are You Doing New Year’s Eve?”

2012 is over!

Thank crap!


I have some housekeeping stuff…

2012 STATS!

Every blogger worth his salt is writing something about his 2012 stats today. So I will, too, but with a twist… Following the example of the Minnesota Orchestral Association, I will release a number to you, completely out of context, which has been independently audited, by WordPress:

Traffic at Song of the Lark has increased by roughly 1600% from last year.

Here’s what this statistic looks like on a satirical graph I made to advance my pre-ordained narrative that this blog is doing fabulously.

Graphs are fun

Seriously, though. Traffic did increase by 1600%, and my readership has grown beyond my wildest dreams. There are a lot of people reading this blog. Want to know how many? Drew McManus is currently running a poll, asking readers to guess about various statistics about Adaptistration. Under the question “Which culture blog referred the most traffic to Adaptistration in 2012?” Song of the Lark is one of the options (along with Slipped Disc). I won’t tell you if it’s the right answer, just in case you want to take the quiz yourself, but the fact that Drew even considered using SOTL as an option… Craziness! Craziness, all of it.

So anyway, thank you thank you thank you, all! And how about a special shout-out to Michael Henson? He’s a huge reason why this blog is so popular!

In the continuing vein of British GIFs…



In case you want to take a trek down memory lane… (Entries are listed in reverse order for optimal countdown excitement.)

5) Great Female Violinists: A List. Proof that before the Orchestral Apocalypse, I mainly wrote about Victorian violinists. If you’re remotely interested in the history of music, and you’re a reader who came aboard after August (and most of you are), you should check out this page. I’ve written about some really amazing inspirational women who are very unjustly neglected.

4) A Layman’s Guide to the Minnesota Orchestra Lockout. What the title says. As an update, yesterday I wrote and posted a sequel: A Layman’s Guide to the Minnesota Orchestra Lockout, Part 2.

3) Violinist Jill Olson Moser Writes About Minnesota Orchestra Subs. Proof that my readers like it when I shut up once in a while and bring aboard amazing guest writers. A big thank you not just to Jill, but to all of my 2012 guest bloggers. You brought perspectives I don’t have, and I’m so thankful.

2) Is Minnesota Orchestra management lying to us? Ah, yes, the good old days before we knew they were…

And of course…

1) The Key And the Lockout: Minnesota Orchestra Musicians In-Concert, Oct. 18. Well, of course. This is the essay that led to the great Alex Ross Recognition of 2012.

Possibly the best tweet of all time.



I’ve had one for a while but I only revved it up yesterday. Here it is. You can also like it by checking out the link on the right-most column of the blog. There you can connect with other readers, share stuff, and message me privately. It’ll be interesting to see how the page evolves. Just a quick reminder to be respectful to everyone. Remember that important people are reading what you write.

Once the lockouts are over, and I go back to blogging about historical female violinists nobody has ever heard of, you have my permission to un-like me. ;)


Feel free to talk in the comments about what you want to see in the blog in the new year…ideas for mobilization…what exactly you want to see state representatives do in the new year… Anything, really.

Thanks for being my readers. You’re the best. xoxo

– Emily



Filed under Blog Stuff

Some Historical Perspective

A reader passed along this lovely vintage piece from the Minnesota Historical Society archives… It’s an excerpt from John K Sherman’s “Music and Maestros: The Story of the Minneapolis Symphony Orchestra,” which was published in November of 1952. Highly recommended reading! I was so entertained that I live-blogged my reactions to it on Facebook this morning. I want you to read the whole thing yourself, so I won’t spoil anything for you, but here are a few of my initial observations:

  • We’ve been discussing the fiscal sustainability of the Minnesota Orchestra since before the Minnesota Orchestra was even formed.
  • Minneapolis has been an orchestral leader since 1900. We have a long proud history of excellence to guard and preserve.
  • The violist story in this article is one of the most entertaining performance mishaps that I’ve ever read about. Way to reinforce violist stereotypes, dear Joseph Frank!

The thing I really wanted to share with you, though, is this very cool mention of soprano Olive Fremstad:

The first performance of the new orchestra needed a big and costly name, preferably a singer’s name, as an ace-in-the-hole guarantee of its success and as lure for that sizable portion of the populace that might be more name-conscious than symphony-hungry. The orchestra’s backers were willing to spend five hundred dollars for such a name. Minneapolis’ own Olive Fremstad, who in the last three years had become the darling of European opera-goers, would have filled all specifications. But she was not available for the opening night and could only be engaged for a later appearance…

The sixth and final concert of the first season, on March 23, 1904, reverted to the International Auditorium. Olive Fremstad, absent from her home city for ten years and now laureled with success, was the soloist.

Olive Fremstad was an amazing woman, with an amazing life story. In fact, she had such an amazing life story that Willa Cather used it as the basis of a novel:

The Song of the Lark.

Is your mind blown?

I chose this name for the blog way back in May of 2011 because of the connotations with Cather (a well-respected music writer), the story of the novel itself (a small-town Midwestern girl of Scandinavian descent fulfilling her artistic ambitions), and Vaughan Williams’s Lark Ascending (one of the most famous pieces ever dedicated to a female violinist). But it turns out there’s a pretty remarkable Minnesota Orchestra connection in there, too! I am a nerd, and I think this is very cool.

On a related upbeat note, our Ode to Joy concerts are rapidly approaching! I’m coming to the Sunday show. If you see me, please say hello. Forgive me if I don’t recognize you, because I’m absolutely terrible with faces. I’d love to thank you in-person for coming along on this crazy journey.


Filed under Uncategorized

Response to Jon Eisele’s MinnPost Editorial

Here’s a link to Jon Eisele’s piece in MinnPost: “MN Orchestra board member: We seek our musicians’ partnership to build a strong future.”

I’m not going to spend the time nitpicking every little thing in it that’s misleading or unsatisfactory, so I’ll just pick out a few highlights…

Here’s Mr. Eisele’s answer to why the mission statement was changed:

Our mission statement was changed in our new strategic plan to signify a new emphasis around serving our community. This language change is important, not because the “orchestra” isn’t part of it, but because it communicates a pivotal shift in what we see as the role of symphony orchestras in the 21st century. A shift to a more community-minded and responsive organization is a positive and needed repositioning for our orchestra.

For those of you who haven’t memorized the orchestra’s old and new mission statements… It went from

Our mission is to enrich and inspire our community as a symphony orchestra internationally recognized for its artistic excellence.

Our mission will be implemented by:

  • Enhancing the traditional core of concerts with innovative approaches to programming and format;
  • Providing the finest educational and outreach programs;
  • Representing and promoting the Minnesota Orchestra and the State of Minnesota to audiences across the state,  across the country and around the world through tours and electronic media;
  • Maintaining an acoustically superior hall with a welcoming environment.


The Minnesota Orchestral Association inspires, educates and serves our community through internationally recognized performances of exceptional music delivered within a sustainable financial structure.

Seriously, now. Which mission statement sounds like it’s more interested in serving its community? If community service really was at the heart of the Minnesota Orchestra’s new mission, then why remove references to “the finest educational and outreach programs”, “representing and promoting the Minnesota Orchestra and the State of Minnesota to audiences across the state” and maintaining a hall with “a welcoming environment”? I think this is a fair question.

Also, I’m failing to understand how not addressing a community’s questions about its finances is in any way, shape, or form serving them…

Another point: I was disappointed that Mr. Eisele took words directly from the Minnesota Orchestra’s website and Mr. Campbell and Mr. Davis. I would have much preferred to hear from him in his own words.

The website:

These donations would not have been contributed to the Orchestra if there were not a building project to support.

Mr. Eisele:

The vast majority of donations we received for the hall campaign would not have been contributed to the orchestra if there were not a building project to support.

Mr. Campbell, Mr. Davis:

 In 2010, we asked our musicians to help alleviate growing deficits by taking a 22 percent wage reduction. We told them that even this sizable reduction would not resolve our financial problems. It would, however, make the cliff less steep in 2012. The musicians chose not to participate in those reductions. That was their legal right, and so we must grapple with even bigger financial issues today.

Mr. Eisele:

It was the musicians’ legal right to do so, but it has made the cliff we face today all the steeper.

Mr. Campbell and Davis:

Why would we seek harm for any member of this iconic organization?

Mr. Eisele:

Why would we want anything but the best for the organization?

And so on and so forth. It would have been lovely to hear more from Mr. Eisele, and fewer rearranged talking points. We’ve already read the talking points, thanks.

I couldn’t help but note that Mr. Eisele ignored the DeCosse’s question, “Has the community raised almost $47 million to renovate an Orchestra Hall that will not include a first-rate Minnesota Orchestra?” That’s troubling, especially when it’s probably the most pertinent question that the DeCosses raised.

On top of that, there are no answers in Mr. Eisele’s piece to questions like:

  • Why the orchestra trumpeted its financial health from 2008-2010
  • Why Mr. Henson misled the state legislature
  • Why an independent analysis would be harmful
  • Why orchestra experts like Drew McManus, Robert Levine, and Bill Eddins are so off-base in their assessments
  • Why we shouldn’t be listening to all the former music directors who claim these cuts will be catastrophic
  • Why there was a $6 million draw from the endowment in 2011 that did not go to operating expenses
  • How much revenue will come from the newly renovated hall, and how

Etc., etc., etc.

We believe the board and the community that supports the Minnesota Orchestra deserve that level of respect.

I look at it another way. I believe the community that supports the Minnesota Orchestra deserves the respect of the board. They are there to serve us and the musicians. Serving us would include submitting to a full independent financial analysis. This isn’t about the musicians anymore. It’s about the taxpayers who footed the $14 million bill for the Orchestra Hall renovation.

In short, this is a hugely unsatisfying piece. I doubt the DeCosses are satisfied. I know I’m not.

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Filed under My Writing

Response to Ken Cutler’s 11/11 Strib Editorial


The musicians must make a counteroffer

I have been a season-ticket holder for the Minnesota Wild since their first game and a Minnesota Orchestra subscriber since 1975, and I serve on the orchestra board. I am frustrated that my two favorite winter activities are in the midst of lockouts. But at least in hockey I can take heart that the sides are talking about contract terms and that each side has presented proposals and counterproposals. In the case of the orchestra, however, two proposals have been presented to the musicians, as long ago as April, yet no counterproposal has been made.

The hockey players never demanded an independent financial analysis before making a counterproposal. They did their own work after examining the league’s finances, yet had even less insight than do the musicians, who have audited financials and 1,200 pages of documents. Unless the musicians offer a counterproposal, no progress can be made. And they must recognize that the orchestra cannot survive if concert revenues only cover 22 percent of operating expenses, a significant portion of which is musician salaries.

I truly love the orchestra and its fine musicians, but if this continues I will think seriously about canceling my season tickets, ending my annual contributions and eliminating the bequest to the orchestra in my will.


Well then feel free to resign, I guess

I know dozens of people from all around the world who would be delighted to take the awful inconvenience of being on the Minnesota Orchestra board off your hands. Contact me ASAP and we can discuss options.

If you do resign or withdraw your contributions, take solace in the fact that if the current proposed contract is ratified, many more people will cancel their season tickets, end their annual contributions, and eliminate their bequests. So we may lose you, but we will retain many others who we otherwise would not have. So it will probably be, as the Star Tribune said about the Minnesota Orchestra’s holiday season, a “net” “wash.”

Also, I hope that as a corporate lawyer you don’t endorse the business practices you seem to be recommending here. I highly doubt that when you represented AmCom Software, Inc., in its sale to US Mobility, Inc., for $163,000,000 that you would have willingly overseen a transaction that included such egregiously misleading and confusing numbers, no matter how many thousands of pages of information you had in your possession. And since over the months nobody in management has addressed the musicians’ allegation that there are conflicting numbers at play, and since we’ve caught Mr. Henson blatantly lying about the fiscal health of the orchestra at least once before, and since Mr. Davis has been cheerfully deceptive about numbers in the past, and since the draw amounts released by the Orchestra do not match those listed on their tax forms, I’m sure you’ll forgive me for assuming that there are misleading numbers at play within those 1200 pages. You’d agree, it would be naive to assume otherwise.

While I have you here, you mind answering some of these hundred questions? Also: do you know why the orchestra was trumpeting its financial health so loudly in 2010? I’ve been asking for weeks now and nobody from the Orchestra has addressed the discrepancy. Hey, maybe we could set up an in-depth interview to discuss the conflict from your perspective. I’ve got a whole group of well-informed people who would love to talk to you. We could have a conference call. A Google Hangout! You can record those and upload them onto Youtube for the whole world to see. It could be awesome. Contact me! Seriously!

Sorry about your favorite winter activities being canceled. That sucks. Not as bad as, say, losing your job and health insurance over Christmas. But it still sucks.


Edit, later – Oh, and by the way, take a look at the differences between the two proposals. They’re basically identical. It’s completely disingenuous – nay, irresponsible – to insinuate there are any substantive differences between them.


Filed under My Writing