In a good cause: arts organizations

Well, here we are. I said I’d make a post about worthy charities every week until the US election, and–this is it. I’ve enjoyed doing it, actually, and may at some point do another series of charity posts just because I feel like it. Because I am nowhere near out of good charities. Not by a long shot.

Today I wanted to talk about arts organizations. I think pretty much anyone who reads this blog is interested in some form of the arts and is familiar with Patreons and Kickstarters for supporting individual artists directly. And hey, more power to them! Please feel free to link to your own or someone else’s project in the comments. (Really. Please.) But larger arts organizations are important too, for wider community outreach than a single person can do, for structural support, for projects that take infrastructure and are bigger than one artist. So that’s what I’m focusing on with this post.

Many of my examples will be Minnesota-local, but

Let’s start with Juxtaposition Arts. Youth-oriented visual arts center in Minneapolis. They have a lot of great programming across cultural and arts genre lines. Here in the south suburbs in Eagan, we’re trying to get an arts center of our own, and Art Works Eagan is the group doing that. Nor are they resting on their laurels in the meantime; AWE has been hosting events in other local spaces until they get a permanent home.

Within the last week, I’ve been to hear music at the Cedar Cultural Center and at Orchestra Hall, home of the Minnesota Orchestra. Venues like these don’t stay alive on ticket prices alone, or tickets would be too expensive for the community. They also rely heavily on volunteers for various duties around the venue–a great opportunity if what you have to give is time and enthusiasm rather than cash.

I’ve also just made my first visit to The Museum of Russian Art, and I’ve been a member of the American Swedish Institute and Minneapolis Institute of Art for awhile now. These museums have a variety of great programming–again, spanning cultures and media–and serve as community focal points.

If you don’t know what the equivalents are in your community, why not find out? You don’t have to be a big city to have theater groups, art groups, music groups that need support. If you look at a program, they’ll start listing names of donors sometimes at the $50 level or below–which just shows you how much these donations matter. And when a $50 donation matters and you don’t have $50, an evening of volunteer work for which they don’t have to pay $50 also matters. Putting the word out that these groups are out there and talking about their various exhibits and productions and projects also matters. We all need the solace of art on our hardest days as well as the joy of art on our brightest ones.

Only maybe one point for it not being Free Bird

Friends, today I am here to talk about a serious issue affecting all of us. Or at least all of us who go to concerts, or possibly listen to concert videos on YouTube.

Will you stop shouting song titles at singers while they are performing.

Stop.

Just stop.

They know what songs they’ve done, or if they’ve forgotten, you shouting one isn’t going to make them suddenly spontaneously remember enough to perform the song credibly. If they only have one or two big hits, they especially know those. They know they are the big hits. They are aware. They may make a joke about it. This is almost certainly not because they think they only wrote one worthwhile song. No. It is because they know that yahoos like you only know the one.

On the other hand, if you are a hardcore superfan, shouting the titles of really obscure songs will impress no one. (Said the person with an obsessive memory who also knows those songs, who likes many of them, and who is still not impressed.) Sometimes an artist will solicit requests. That is when you get to shout titles. Otherwise there are many urges you must stifle when you venture into public with the rest of us, and this is one.

And in particular stop shouting song titles two or three songs into the set.

Seriously. Stop. Give them a chance to get their feet under them. Give them a chance to get to it, for the love of Pete. Possibly the song you want to hear fits in perfectly four songs into the set they had in their head. Five songs in. Possibly the song you want to hear is a great set closer–that happens a lot with crowd favorites. If all you want to hear is “Major Hit: the Only Chart Topper,” they run the very real risk that if they walk out and play it first, you will be restless or possibly just leave.

But if you sit/stand there and shout it every time they stop singing? This is at least as disruptive. Cease.  Desist.

We have this lovely technology that allows you to make a playlist. It’s called–follow me here–a playlist. What it is not called is a live concert. Those work differently. You do not get to fast forward through the bits you do not like; you do not get to pause when you have to pee, and above all you do not get to demand all your favorites in order of what you remembered liking just now.

I love the Cedar, I truly do. You can get varied hippie snacks (often falafel) and chai and locally brewed beer, and no one grabs your butt at a concert unless you brought them along and asked them to. All hail the Cedar. But sometimes the intimacy of the Cedar venue makes Cedar audiences into–and I say this with all love–entitled buttheads. Do not be an entitled butthead at the Cedar. Do not be an entitled butthead at any venue. If you are excited to see an artist, you may shout, “Woo!” “Yeah!” is also acceptable. I suppose if it is a rock-ish sort of show, “We love you, [artist’s given name]!” might be within bounds, but this is likely to disconcert folk artists, especially if they have moved to this area and gotten used to it here, so possibly stick to, “Woo!” You can’t go wrong with, “Woo!” Practice with me: “Wooo!” This is how you channel your excitement about possibly maybe hearing That One Song or maybe not.

John Gorka may be from New Jersey and not expect too much, but I’m from Minnesota and we have standards.

Narrative conventions from a different angle

A couple of weeks ago, Mark and I went to the symphony, and we heard Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov’s Capriccio Espagnol, Opus 34. It’s available here, with just a still image on the Youtube link, not any kind of montage as far as I’m aware (I didn’t watch all the way through). It’s like the soundtrack to the nonexistent fourth Indiana Jones movie. (No, they didn’t make a fourth Indiana Jones movie lalalala I can’t hear you no magical anti-radiation fridges lalalala what.) It’s just a lovely little piece, just over 15 minutes, adventure and excitement, one thing after another.

It also sounds deeply conventional in some ways, and there’s a reason for that. Ever wonder why modern movie soundtracks sound like they do? One of the reasons is because Rimsky-Korsakov wrote the book. Literally. The book is called Principles of Orchestration. He wrote it. He said, “here’s how it’s all supposed to sound and what you use things for,” and it’s a very useful book indeed, setting down how this particular Romantic style of orchestral composition goes. So now when you listen to a movie and the violins swell at the right emotional moment, thanks Nikolai, that’s what you told them to do.

This is bad? This is good? Well, no. This is a tool. If Rimsky-Korsakov hadn’t written the book, people would still have fumbled around figuring out what the heck the Romantics, particularly the Russians, were doing with their orchestras, and we’d probably still be able to listen to a piece like Capriccio Espagnol and point out what the story’s doing, because it’s culturally embedded. It’s just kind of fun to play spot-the-theorist sometimes, and what he’s doing when he applies his theories, or what he’s doing before his theories congeal.