Saturday, October 30, 2010

MCM Arts and Entertainment and Close Embrace

Good news! Tom Gallant at MCM Arts & Entertainment has looked over Voice Afire's show Close Embrace / A Tango Cabaret.

Here's what Tom said:
"Hi Ray – took a look – I see what you are working to do as far as a different kind of presentation that is more of a chamber music concert.  My feeling is though that you will need more of a theatrical element to it, lighting, and more of a scripted show to get it booked.  If you could come up with something that is appealing to the chamber music crowd as well as others who would not normally go to a chamber music concert you would have a winning combination.  Also, the other thing to consider is that you have quite a few people to bring on tour so the fee would need to be higher – so all the more reason for a more theatrical presentation that would command higher fees and ticket sales."

I couldn't agree more! I'll be working on it. Tom also suggested conferences -
Western Arts Alliance, Performing Arts Exchange, and Midwest Arts Conference - all taking place in September. 

I'll be shooting for a revised show in January of 2012 and showcasing in September of 2012.

Are there any tango enthusiasts out there?


Thursday, October 28, 2010

Andrew Kwan Artists Management

There are advantages to having been in the music business so long. One of these is that I know Andrew Kwan, an arts manager extraordinaire in Toronto . Yesterday, in the midst of a busy day preparing for Contact Ontario, Andrew gave me an hour and a half of his valuable time. We were talking specifically about the various possibilities for showcasing and touring with The Art of Love / Into the Labyrinth, Voice Afire's multi-media show written for Canada's premiere piano duo, Anagnoson and Kinton, a client of Andrew's. But we were also talking in general terms about what I needed to do to get Voice Afire Pocket Opera and Cabaret really up and running.

Here are some of Andrew's tips and insights:
  1. Count on at least 5 years to start getting established.
  2. Attend the music trade shows and do it year after year. One year absent and you are beginning to fade.
  3. The U.S. is divided geographically into 4 trade shows: Arts Northwest, Arts Midwest, Southern Arts Exchange and Western Arts Alliance
  4. Of the 3 conferences happening in New York in January (APAP, Chamber Music America, and ISPAA) ISPAA is probably the best for touring classical music groups. APAP  is a grab bag of all sorts of entertainment.
  5. For Voice Afire and its New York location: identify the presenters in an hour and a half radius of New York and try to make contact. 
  6. Presenters receive something like 100 e mails a day from artists and arts managers. Use any and every method to try to get their attention: e mail, snail mail, telephone, and any other method you can think of.
  7. Start a "buzz." i.e. articles in newspaper and magazines, concert notifications, etc.
  8. Classical music is a hard sell. Therefore, sell your concert as something other than a classical music concert. Use Andrew's show The Schumann Letters, " a story of love and music in the shadow of madness", as an example
Obviously, arts management is a tough, full-time job. Voice Afire needs  collaborators. Is anyone out there listening?

Friday, October 22, 2010

San Francisco Pocket Opera

Here's the history of the San Francisco Pocket Opera as published on their website

"Pocket Opera is the creation of its Artistic Director, Donald Pippin who, in 1954 began presenting and performing with chamber, Renaissance, and small ensembles in North Beach cabarets. Unexpectedly, these instrumental performances metamorphosed into vocal recitals, culminating with some a number of one-act operas which became wildly popular. Mr. Pippin felt strongly about making opera accessible to as wide an audience as possible and created original English language transcriptions, many of them rarely performed. In 1960, these operas were presented in concert at the Old Spaghetti Factory. In 1977, prompted by the tremendous success of these performances, members of the audience met and incorporated Pocket Opera as a non-profit organization.

By 1979, a subscription series was established, and the size of the audience forced the company out of the cabarets and into the theaters of San Francisco. In the years since, Pocket Opera has performed an annual spring season with a growing repertory of operas. The many achievements of the company include rediscoveries, premieres, and revitalization of works long unjustly neglected--some of them previously unperformed in this country."

The San Francisco Pocket Opera seems to be the oldest pocket opera organization. Did Mr. Pippin invent the term? I don't know. SFPO has a mandate or vision: making opera accessible.

That is not the vision of Voice Afire Pocket Opera and Cabaret. My vision: to recreate the form itself, making music and the voice the servant of the drama - again. To read the letters of traditional opera composers like Mozart or Verdi or Puccini, et al, that would seem have been their purpose as well. But, it seems to me, this traditional opera no longer works. These operas no longer work because in most cases the drama behind them no longer works. Audiences go to hear the voice and the music, not to experience a drama enhanced and elevated by music.

For instance, Carmen. The gipsy throws a rose at Don Jose, and he is immediately in love. Credible only as opera, not as drama. In the original story, it is quite clear that the gipsy is a sorceress - if you buy that as a dramatic possibility.

For instance, Rigolettobased on Victor Hugo’s verse play, "Le Roi s'Amuse". Has anyone out there read the play? I doubt it would work at all for a contemporary audience.

For instance, Madama Butterfly. There is really no reason in the world why we should accept the idea that Butterfly would fall for Pinkerton. Is it his voice she loves? And Pinkerton! Why should we sympathize with this self-centered egotist? Fact is, in the original play, David Belasco does give us reasons. But of course, they are really not needed in opera, so the Italian librettists excised them. 

In the Voice Afire version of Madama Butterfly I have reinstated Belascos reasons. I have tried to recreate the opera in such a way that it actually serves a credible story. Yes, it is all Puccini's music (or most of it), but there are subtle, and not so subtle changes to the libretto. 
This version stands on its own. It is not trying to sell opera to hesitant audiences.


Thursday, October 21, 2010

Festival of the Sound

Festivals! Next summer Voice Afire Pocket Opera http://www, will be performing The Pocket Madama Butterfly at The Festival of the Sound in Parry Sound, Ontario. This is Ontario's longest running and most prestigious summer music festival.
Parry Sound is a beautiful town nestled on the even more beautiful Georgian Bay. The Festival takes place in Stockey Hall as well as on the Bay itself on cruises.

Voice Afire has previously performed at the International Chamber Music Festival at Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario.

Something I have discovered about Festivals: the name "festival" is a bit misleading. The name would seem to indicate that a Festival represents a very special performance or group of performances. Nothing of the kind! Festivals usually put on a pot-pourri of concerts. There's little or no time for rehearsal, and performers often put on concerts that don't require much rehearsal. Part of the reason for this is that Festivals often exist on shoe string budgets.

This won't be the case for Madama Butterfly
We'll be having extra rehearsals on our own. Karen Wood will be our director. We have great singers, a great actor in Colin Fox, and terrific players. It will be a wonderful show. Hope the audience appreciates what it's getting! In any event it represents exposure,something that may lead to other gigs. And that's why people perform at Festivals.

Comments about Festival performances?

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Pocket Opera of New York

Last Wednesday night I attended the opening concert and reception of PONY, Pocket Opera of NewYork They performed Ravel's  L'enfant et les sortileges and Debussy's La chute de la maison Usher (what there is of it). It was marvellous, done in English with piano accompaniment and some staging. 14 singers! PONY has large pockets. PONY has been around since last year. I was as much impressed with the organizational skills of the PONY admin. team as I was with the performance and with the quality of the singers.

I talked with Wei-En Hsu, Artistic Director and also the excellent accompanist for PONY. They had 6 weeks of rehearsal on a low budget!"This is New York. We had auditions, and singers from Chicago  offered to come, paying their own way." What happens when a singer gets a "paid" gig that conflicts with a production like this? This from one of the singers: "There are lots of little opera organizations in New York. Most double or triple cast each role. There are so many hungry singers here that it's possible to do that."

PONY is obviously not into touring, with such a large cast. Voice Afire Pocket Opera and Cabaret is.
Perhaps there's some synchronicity there?

PONY performed at the Bechstein Showroom at 207 West 58th St.

Any singers wanting to audition for PONYtry:

Ensemble Schumann at Port Washington

Sunday I took the Long Island Railroad to the beautiful town of Port Washington on Long Island.
I had been invited by Steve Larson, violist with the Adaskin Trio to hear a concert of  Ensemble Schumann at the Port Washington Public Library. The Adaskin Trio premiered my piece Tango Dreams in Elgin, Quebec. Tango Dreams is part of the Voice Afire show Close Embrace / A Tango Cabaret

Steve wanted me to meet Tom Gallant, oboist with Ensemble Schumann, manager of the Adaskin Trio, and Managing Director of MCM Arts and Entertainment.

The concert was a traditional show of 18th and 19th Century music. It was well played, to be sure. The audience was of a "certain age." But frankly, it is not something I would otherwise even cross the street to hear. That's me, the classical music heretic speaking.

Mostly, Mozart and Schumann and the rest bore me to tears. For me, music is not just about pretty (or un-pretty) sounds. For me, music has a meaning and is actually saying something. This music, written for either a decadent upper class or a self-satisfied middle class, speaks to me of grandiosity (call it "uplifting") or of acute narcissism and bathos. Yes, as a composer, I love it, technically speaking - it says what it says very well.However, if this music were translated into drama, it would be the worst kind of soap opera; and  no-one would go to see it performed.

Comments on my rant?

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Symphony Space

Speaking of concert venues in New York, there's Symphony Space on Broadway at 96th St., a very respectable venue indeed. Actually, in Symphony Space there are two halls. From the website:
Our 756-seat Peter Jay Sharp Theatre with proscenium stage and fixed seating is available for rental 7 days a week 9:30 am to 12 am (Sundays after 2 pm only). Our 168-seat Leonard Nimoy Thalia with platform stage is available for rental 7 days a week 9:30 am to 12 am (Sundays until 2 pm only).

I'm renting Thalia Hall on June 6. 2011. Anagnoson and Kinton, duo pianists, and actor Colin Fox will be performing my The Art of Love / Into the Labyrinth. there will be visuals by Ron Hurwitz.

This piece is a case in point for how the music business really works - or doesn't work. When
I first joined the Toronto Symphony I made it my point to meet important people in the music business - my connection with the TSO gave me that opportunity. I talked with conductors, performers, music publishers, etc. My question: "How does a composer make it in this business." All of them said, "Spend some time promoting yourself, but not too much. Keep composing. If your work is good, it will get played. Find a champion" That's romantic baloney.

And so I'm renting Symphony Space (Thalia Hall) to get a complete performance of what I
think is my best piece, The Art of Love / Into the Labyrinth, written eight years ago. It will cost me in the neighborhood of $3000 or more. That includes $1200 to rent the hall, $600 to rent and move a 2nd piano, and other costs related to a screen and microphones and publicity.  Anagnoson and Kinton, bless their hearts, are paying their own way down as is Colin Fox, as is Ron Hurwitz.

Music makes it not on its own merits but with some of your own cash and with help from your friends.
Do check out Youtube for last June's performance of excerpts from The Art of Love at Symphony Space:

Monday, October 11, 2010

York Theatre Company

Beware of any theater company not based in the UK or Canada that spells theater as "theatre". That "theatre" company is either very pretentious or very professional and very well-established. For the York Theatre Company it is definitely the latter. I saw one of the shows in their Musicals in Mufti series, I Remember Mama by Richard Rogers, at the Theatere at St. Peters Church at 619 Lexington Ave. It was on book, with piano accompaniment, with minimal staging, and on 30 hours of rehearsal. All the same, it was tremendously professional. The performers were stunning.

In Toronto when I mentioned doing something with musicians involved or with more that 4 performers, the  theater companies treated me as if I had invoked the name of Mephistofeles himself. Here in NYC these things are happening all over the place.

Now, let's say you have a musical - or at least something that uses singers and actors and musicians. Does the York Theatre Company accept manuscripts? Wonder of wonders, yes they do! Here are the conditions (found on their website):

-The York Theatre Company is one of the only theatres in the country that accepts unsolicited scripts - we receive scripts from around the world, from both established and emerging writers.
-York's mission concerns musicals only; we do not accept submissions of plays
-A completed script, as well as a sound recording of at least most of the songs.
-Only when the submission process is open.  The process is currently CLOSED.  Please check back periodically to see if the process is open or closed.  Any scripts received while the submission process is closed will not be considered.

York Theatre Company
The Theatre at Saint Peter's
619 Lexington Avenue
New York, NY 10022

Anyone have a musical lying in a desk drawer? Well I do, and I'll be checking their website periodically.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Le Poisson Rouge

Yes, The Red Fish. Since moving to NYC, I have begun investigating New York concert venues, and this is one of the most interesting. They put on eveything from rock shows to very heavy weight "new music" concerts. I went to see a Japanese pianist perform Boulez, Webern, and fellow "old hat" modernists. (Hey! I was imitating this style 40 years ago - it's not "modern" anymore!) It was wonderfully played. the place was packed with the young and the older. You could have heard a pin drop. This week's performances by the Kronos Quartet were sold out.

This is the hip place in NYC to put on a show. If you are not a rock band, pay no mention to the blurb that says you must sign up with GigMaven
Rather one sends a message to Catch is, they will only let you know 1 or 2 months ahead of time if you are booked.

Nevertheless, I have gone ahead and requested a booking for my multi-media show
The Art of Love / Into the Labyrinth
with visuals by Ron Hurwitz

By the way, whether or not Le Poisson Rouge picks us up (Us being me and Anagnoson and Kinton ), The Art of Love is on for June 6, 2011 at Symphony Space / Thalia Studio See you there!

Ray Luedeke
Voice Afire Pocket Opera and Cabaret

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Catch 22

A Catch-22, coined by Joseph Heller in his novel Catch-22, is a logical paradox arising from a situation in which an individual needs something that can only be acquired by not being in that very situation; therefore, the acquisition of this thing becomes logically impossible.

Tour ready: This is the very situation of a musician trying to tour, i.e. you won't be hired to tour unless you have already toured.  For instance, the people at the Ontario Presenting Network told me that to showcase at Ontario Contact I would need to be "tour ready." That means that I would have already have toured and have performed in at least 10 different and geographically distant places. And not only that! I would need reviews from all these places. Thing is, if I were already that successful, why would I need to showcase at Contact Ontario? Same from Jeunesses Musicales "We would love to help you tour. When can I see your next show on tour?"
Keep in mind that one-offs (single concerts) don't count.

Next level: If I am already successful enough to be touring, why do I need these people? Here is an answer from a seminar at Arts Midwest, this concerning arts management: "We are here to take you to the next level." The problem remains:
how do I get to level one?

Money: As always, money is the answer. Or, as an arts mangers told me,
"Become a not-for-profit corporation, build a board, and the board will raise money." That particular arts mgr.has obviously never dealt with the problem of trying to get a board to raise money: subject for another blog. Or the psychology of a not-for-profit board: another blog. What would money pay for? With money I could rent the halls to create my own tour. I could hire a publicity agent and pay for publicity to publicize the tour. I could have money up front to pay for the expenses of rehearsal. I could guarantee payments to performers.

That requires a lot of money! In the absence of large amounts of cash, I need a little help from my friends.

One more necessary item: a logo. Thanks to Bjay Nathan in Toronto. Like it?

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Arts Midwest Conference

"It wouldn't matter if it were the greatest piece ever written.  We wouldn't record it".

Years ago, that's what was said to me by an A&R man (Artists and Repertoire Man - do they still exist?)  at RCA Victor (that doesn't still exist for sure).  At the time, one of the world's great string quartets and a great harpist was set to record my harp quintet.  On a whim, I had called RCA Victor - in the days when people actually answered phone calls - and that was the response.

After a long and varied career in music, the words of that A&R man still stick in my craw.  This blog is about my response to those words.

Over the last fifteen years, I have composed and/or arranged a series of music theatre pieces.  Now I have abandoned the performance part of my career to spend my time composing and promoting these shows.  Voice Afire Pocket Opera and Cabaret is the name of my production company.

Most performing musicians know a little about the business side of putting on concerts or booking tours.  Neither did I.  But I am learning.  As part of my learning process, last month I attended the Arts Midwest Conference  Along with hundreds of others I had a booth in a huge convention centre in Indianapolis.  Here's a picture of my booth.

Presenters, the people who put on concert series, were there in their hundreds to make contact with performers.

In three days, six hours a day, sitting in front of my booth, not one presenter stopped and asked, "Who are you? Tell me about your show."  Not one.  Unfortunately, this would seem to prove the words of my A&R man.  After all, my shows had all been performed numerous times.  Audiences loved them, performers loved them, and if I do say so myself, they are very fine.

I used my free time, there was lots of it, to wonder the hall and make contacts and learn.  Here's what I learned:

  • Preparation is all important.  Contact Presenters before hand and make appointments.  At least, let them know you exist.
  • Arts trade shows are all about networking.  Not art.  About personal relationships.  "I'll hire you if I know you and if I trust you".
  • Nobody wants to take a risk.  Everybody wants a sure bet.  The problem is how to become a sure bet. 
I was saved from utter despair by 2 things:
  • Matt Brown, another new comer to the convention, was ignored almost as completely as I was.  Matt is an absolutely wonderful performer of traditional Appalachian folk music.  I know this because I heard his showcase.  Why weren't Presenters flocking to his booth?
  • I had the support and encouragement of four veteran Arts Managers:
    • Kenneth Wentworth at
    • Laurelle Favreau at
    • Annick-Patricia Carriere at
    • Manuel Prestamo at

Special thanks to all the above.

Readers, please send comments, suggestions, additions, etc.  My next trade shows will be APAP in New York  and then Chamber Music America